I AM withholding my approval from S. 425, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1974.
S. 425 would establish Federal standards for the environmental protection and reclamation of surface coal mining operations, including the reclamation of orphaned lands. Under a complex procedural framework, the bill would encourage the States to implement and enforce a program for the regulation of surface coal mining with substitution of a federally administered program if the States do not act.
The Executive Branch submitted to both the 92nd and 93rd Congresses legislation that would have established reasonable and effective reclamation and environmental protection requirements for mining activities. Throughout this period, the Administration made every effort in working with the Congress to produce a bill that would strike the delicate balance between our desire for reclamation and environmental protection and our need to increase coal production in the United States.
Unfortunately, S. 425, as enrolled, would have an adverse impact on our domestic coal production which is unacceptable. By 1977, the first year after the Act would take full effect, the Federal Energy Administration has estimated that coal production losses would range from a minimum of 48 million tons to a maximum of 141 million tons. In addition, further losses which cannot be quantified could result from ambiguities in the bill, forcing protracted regulatory disputes and litigation. In my judgment, the most significant reasons why such coal losses cannot be accepted are as follows:
1. Coal is the one abundant energy source over which the United States has total control. We should not unduly impair our ability to use it properly.
2. We are engaged in a major review of national energy policies. Unnecessary restrictions on coal production would limit our Nation's freedom to adopt the best energy options.
3. The United States uses the equivalent of 4 barrels of expensive foreign oil for every ton of unproduced domestic coal--a situation which cannot long be tolerated without continued, serious economic consequences. This bill would exacerbate this problem.
4. Unemployment would increase in both the coal fields and in those industries unable to obtain alternative fuel.
In addition, S. 425 provides for excessive Federal expenditures and would clearly have an inflationary impact on the economy. Moreover, it contains numerous other deficiencies which have recently been addressed in Executive Branch communications to the Congress concerning this legislation.
In sum, I find that the adverse impact of this bill on our domestic coal production is unacceptable at a time when the Nation can ill afford significant losses from this critical energy resource. It would also further complicate our battle against inflation. Accordingly, I am withholding my approval from S. 425.
In doing so, I am truly disappointed and sympathetic with those in Congress who have labored so hard to come up with a good bill. We must continue to strive diligently to ensure that laws and regulations are in effect which establish environmental protection, and reclamation requirements appropriately balanced against the Nation's need for increased coal production. This will continue to be my Administration's goal in the new year.
GERALD R. FORD
The White House,
December 30, 1974.