Surface mining for coal in Missouri has a 100 year history beginning with the use of steam shovels in the early 1900s, There is potential desirable coal in Missouri because of it bituminous rank, but the coal beds are relatively thin and are a high cost to mine. Early surface coal mining fueled the energy needed for regional economies to grow and significantly contributed to the economy of WWII and the energy needed afterward for a growing population.  Most of the surface coal mining in Missouri took place before the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977,  or SMCRA.  This is the United States law that governs the activities of surface coal mining and reclamation throughout the country today. Surface coal mining in Missouri has significantly changed from earlier times.

Missouri law governs surface coal mining under the provisions of the United States Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The Land Reclamation Program has State authority to make sure the laws that govern the activities of surface coal mining and reclamation are being met.  A surface coal mine operator must go through a lengthy process of obtaining a permit. The permit is an actual plan that establishes a reasonable expectation that mining and reclamation can be completed without any adverse effects to human welfare and the environment. Mining and reclamation is not a two-step unrelated process but rather a continual and related schedule of activities involving environmental protection, soil conservation, mining and safety, backfill and grading, soil redistribution, re-vegetation and maintenance.

The Land Reclamation Program recognizes two coal mines that completed mining and reclamation in an exemplary manner and left the land and environment in better shape than before. These mines are the Bee Veer Mine operated by Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., or AECI, and the Cottonwood Creek Mine operated by Continental Coal Inc., or CCI.

Before the involvement of AECI the Bee Veer mine was a coal processing facility that had accumulated coal waste over a period of 30 years before there were any mining and reclamation laws. The slurry pond had a 63 foot high dam and a 111.1-acre containment area, which was a source of water pollution in the receiving streams.  AECI operated a coal recovery facility where the old slurry waste was processed for marketable recovery. This removed a great portion of the coal waste and set up the circumstances for reclamation. The operation and reclamation were exemplary by improving the water quality, establishing enhanced land use for agriculture and wildlife and using operation methods unique to this situation.  The slurry dam is registered with the department's Dam and Reservoir Safety Program.  AECI received a national reclamation award in 2007 for this work.

The Cottonwood Creek Mine is an 808 acre site adjacent to and involving a system of previously mined old pits and spoils that impair downstream waters. The un-mined adjacent lands were significantly impacted by the old mine works with eroded gullies, old equipment roads and spoil that dissected the landscape. The mining and reclamation of the site fixed the old problems and made improvements with the hydrologic balance, land use and wildlife habit.

There are engineered waterways, diversions and final impoundments that stabilize the flow of surface waters, create new shoreline and embankment habitat and help to ameliorate the downstream impairment of waters. Some of the old pits have been filled and reclaimed to provide a diverse and more productive habitat for wildlife. There are more wildlife habitat acres than before mining and reclamation. The agricultural fields are better in size, shape and drainage than previously found and better suited for sustainability. Furthermore, the mining and reclamation took place over a 10 year period of time and was completed ahead of schedule. CCI won the 2013 national reclamation small operator award for exemplary performance.