Approximate Original Contour Policy

Developing Approximate Original Contour (AOC) and spoil minimization policies for the states of West Virginia and Kentucky.

1999 - 2002 (with ongoing consulting about public policy)
West Virginia, Kentucky
State of West Virginia, State of Kentucky

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act defines Approximate Original Contour (AOC) as "that surface configuration achieved by backfilling and grading of the mined area so that the reclaimed area, including any terracing or access roads, closely resembles the general surface configuration of the land prior to mining."

RESPEC's testimony during the Bragg v. Robertson litigation highlighted the fact that the state of West Virginia did not have any definitive means to determine if a permitted mine had been designed to ensure that the AOC would be achieved. As such, RESPEC played an active role in developing West Virginia's AOC+ policy that clearly defined the methods for calculating the amount of material backfilled in the mined area, forced the permit applicant to raise the elevation of the valley fills above the elevation of the lowest coal seam, and required the applicant to review the most efficient excess spoil disposal area. The introduction of these concepts minimized the length of stream impacts by maximizing the amount of spoil returned to the mined area.

On behalf of the Kentucky Resources Council, RESPEC also participated in developing a definitive AOC policy for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Working with Kentucky Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the US Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), and representatives of the coal industry, RESPEC provided technical expertise and used its experience gained from developing the West Virginia AOC+ protocol to assist in developing Kentucky's Fill Placement Optimization protocol.

RESPEC first prepared the draft documents based on the existing West Virginia AOC+ policy but augmented these with procedures to address contour mining and an approach to define the predominant mining type in each watershed. Of particular importance was including an approach to minimize impacts from contour mining. The policy also includes details of ongoing certifications to ensure that the fill optimization is reevaluated if the quantity of mined coal changed.

Furthermore, the policy defines the number of Environmental Impact Units (EIUs) under the optimized configuration and under the actual permit configuration. The Kentucky policy will be implemented under a recent Memorandum of Understanding between the OSMRE, the USACE Louisville and Nashville offices, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources, and similar to the West Virginia policy, will result in retaining more spoil material on the mine bench, fewer and smaller fills, and more contemporaneous reclamation.