82-4-227. Refusal of permit -- applicant violator system. (1) An application for a prospecting, strip-mining, or underground-mining permit or major revision may not be approved by the department unless, on the basis of the information set forth in the application, in an onsite inspection, and in an evaluation of the operation by the department, the applicant has affirmatively demonstrated that the requirements of this part and rules will be observed and that the proposed method of operation, backfilling, grading, subsidence stabilization, water control, highwall reduction, topsoiling, revegetation, or reclamation of the affected area can be carried out consistently with the purpose of this part. The applicant for a permit or major revision has the burden of establishing that the application is in compliance with this part and the rules adopted under it.
(2) The department may not approve the application for a prospecting, strip-mining, or underground-mining permit when the area of land described in the application includes land that has special, exceptional, critical, or unique characteristics or when mining or prospecting on that area would adversely affect the use, enjoyment, or fundamental character of neighboring land that has special, exceptional, critical, or unique characteristics. For the purposes of this part, land is defined as having these characteristics if it possesses special, exceptional, critical, or unique:
(a) biological productivity, the loss of which would jeopardize certain species of wildlife or domestic stock;
(b) ecological fragility, in the sense that the land, once adversely affected, could not return to its former ecological role in the reasonably foreseeable future;
(c) ecological importance, in the sense that the particular land has such a strong influence on the total ecosystem of which it is a part that even temporary effects felt by it could precipitate a systemwide reaction of unpredictable scope or dimensions; or
(d) scenic, historic, archaeologic, topographic, geologic, ethnologic, scientific, cultural, or recreational significance. In applying the provisions of this subsection (d), particular attention should be paid to the inadequate preservation previously accorded Plains Indian history and culture.
(3) The department may not approve an application for a strip- or underground-coal-mining permit or major revision unless the application affirmatively demonstrates that:
(a) the assessment of the probable cumulative impact of all anticipated mining in the area on the hydrologic balance has been made by the department and the proposed operation of the mining operation has been designed to prevent material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area; and
(b) the proposed strip- or underground-coal-mining operation would not:
(i) interrupt, discontinue, or preclude farming on alluvial valley floors that are irrigated or naturally subirrigated, excluding undeveloped rangelands that are not significant to farming on alluvial valley floors and excluding land about which the department finds that if any farming will be interrupted, discontinued, or precluded, it is of such small acreage as to be of negligible impact on the farm's agricultural production; or
(ii) materially damage the quantity or quality of water in surface water or underground water systems that supply the valley floors described in subsection (3)(b)(i).
(4) Subsection (3)(b) does not affect those strip- or underground-coal-mining operations that in the year preceding the enactment of Public Law 95-87 produced coal in commercial quantities and were located within or adjacent to alluvial valley floors or had obtained specific permit approval by the department to conduct strip- or underground-coal-mining operations within alluvial valley floors. If coal deposits are precluded from being mined under this subsection, the director of the department shall certify to the secretary of interior that the mineral owner or lessee may be eligible for participation in coal exchange programs pursuant to section 510(5) of Public Law 95-87.
(5) (a) If the area proposed to be mined contains prime farmland, the department may not grant a permit to mine coal on the prime farmland unless it finds in writing that the applicant:
(i) has the technological capability to restore the mined area, within a reasonable time, to levels of yield equivalent to or higher than nonmined prime farmland in the surrounding area under equivalent levels of management; and
(ii) can meet the soil reconstruction standards of 82-4-232(3).
(b) Nothing in this subsection (5) applies to a permit issued prior to August 3, 1977, or to any revisions or renewals of the permit or to any existing strip- or underground-mining operations for which a permit was issued prior to August 3, 1977.
(6) If the department finds that the overburden on any part of the area of land described in the application for a prospecting, strip-mining, or underground-mining permit is such that experience in the state with a similar type of operation upon land with similar overburden shows that substantial deposition of sediment in streambeds, subsidence, landslides, or water pollution cannot feasibly be prevented, the department shall delete that part of the land described in the application upon which the overburden exists. The burden is on the applicant to demonstrate that any area should not be deleted under this subsection.
(7) If the department finds that the operation will constitute a hazard to a dwelling, public building, school, church, cemetery, commercial or institutional building, public road, stream, lake, or other public property, the department shall delete those areas from the prospecting, strip-mining, or underground-mining permit application before it can be approved. Strip- or underground-coal-mining may not be allowed:
(a) within 300 feet of an occupied dwelling, unless waived by the owner;
(b) within 300 feet of any public building, school, church, community, or institutional building, or public park;
(c) within 100 feet of a cemetery;
(d) within 100 feet of the outside right-of-way line of any public road, except where mine access roads or haulage roads join the right-of-way line. The department may permit the roads to be relocated or the area affected to lie within 100 feet of the road if, after public notice and opportunity for public hearing in the locality, a written finding is made that the interests of the public and the landowners affected will be protected.
(8) Strip-mining or underground-mining may not be conducted within 500 feet of active or abandoned underground mines in order to prevent breakthroughs and to protect health or safety of miners. However, the department shall permit an operator to mine near, through, or partially through an abandoned underground mine or closer to an active underground mine if:
(a) the nature, timing, and sequencing of specific strip-mine activities and specific underground-mine activities are jointly approved by the department and the regulatory authority concerned with the health and safety of underground miners; and
(b) the operations will result in improved resource recovery, abatement of water pollution, or elimination of hazards to the health and safety of the public.
(9) The department may not approve an application for a strip- or underground-coal-mining operation if the area proposed to be mined is included:
(a) within an area designated unsuitable for strip or underground coal mining; or
(b) within an area under review for this designation under an administrative proceeding, unless in an area as to which an administrative proceeding has commenced pursuant to this part, the operator making the permit application demonstrates that prior to January 1, 1977, the operator made substantial legal and financial commitments in relation to the operation for which the operator is applying for a permit.
(10) A permit or major permit revision for a strip- or underground-coal-mining operation may not be issued unless the applicant has affirmatively demonstrated by its coal conservation plan that failure to conserve coal will not occur. The department may require the applicant to submit any information it considers necessary for review of the coal conservation plan.
(11) Whenever information available to the department indicates that a strip- or underground-coal-mining operation that is owned or controlled by the applicant or by any person who owns or controls the applicant is currently in violation of Public Law 95-87, as amended, any state law required by Public Law 95-87, as amended, or any law, rule, or regulation of the United States or of any department or agency in the United States pertaining to air or water environmental protection, the department may not issue a strip- or underground-coal-mining permit or amendment, other than an incidental boundary revision, until the applicant submits proof that the violation has been corrected or is in the process of being corrected to the satisfaction of the administering agency.
(12) The department may not issue a strip- or underground-coal-mining permit or amendment, other than an incidental boundary revision, to any applicant that it finds, after an opportunity for hearing, owns or controls any strip- or underground-coal-mining operation that has demonstrated a pattern of willful violations of Public Law 95-87, as amended, or any state law required by Public Law 95-87, as amended, when the nature and duration of the violations and resulting irreparable damage to the environment indicate an intent not to comply with the provisions of this part.
(13) Subject to valid existing rights, no strip- or underground-coal-mining operations except those that existed as of August 3, 1977, may be conducted:
(a) on lands within the boundaries of units of the national park system, the national wildlife refuge system, the national wilderness preservation system, the national system of trails, the wild and scenic rivers system, including study rivers designated under section 5(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or study rivers or study river corridors established in any guidelines issued under that act, or national recreation areas designated by an act of congress; or
(b) on any federal lands within national forests, subject to the exceptions and limitations of 30 CFR 761.11(b) and the procedures of 30 CFR 761.13.
(14) (a) A person who is listed by the department in the applicant violator system maintained by the office of surface mining reclamation and enforcement of the U.S. department of the interior pursuant to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. 1201, et seq., as owning or controlling a strip-mining or underground-mining operation may challenge the ownership or control listing by filing a written request with the department for review of the listing. In the request, the person must include a written explanation of the basis for the challenge and any evidence the person wishes the department to consider. The department shall provide a written response within 60 days of receipt of the request for review.
(b) Within 30 days of receipt of the response pursuant to subsection (14)(a), the person who is listed may request a hearing before the board by submitting to the board a written request for hearing that states the reason for the request. The contested case provisions of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act, Title 2, chapter 4, part 6, apply to the hearing.