(a) No operator shall engage in any surface mining, as defined in this article, after October 1, 1970, without a valid permit from the department to engage in the surface mining. A separate permit shall be required for each such surface mining operation that is not contiguous to a surface mining operation for which the operator has a valid permit.
(b) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, this chapter shall not apply to surface mining to extract materials for the use and benefit of the owner of the property being mined or of an interest therein, the lessee of the property or a charitable institution or organization or governmental entity and not for commercial sale. This exemption shall apply to all mining operations which meet the requirements set forth in this section, including those mining operations for which permits had been issued prior to October 1, 1997. Any permits for exempt mining operations issued prior to October 1, 1997, shall become null and void on October 1, 1997. Upon notification of the department by the holder of such a null and void permit that their mining operation meets the requirements set forth herein, the department shall return any bond provided pursuant to this article within 30 days of receipt by the department of said notification.
(c) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, this chapter shall not apply to surface mining where the area from which overburden is removed together with the area upon which removed overburden is placed does not exceed one acre, not including previously mined areas wherein the placement of removed overburden operates to reclaim the previously mined area.
(d) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to surface mining operations existing on October 1, 1997, or which may be established or initiated in the future for the extraction of non-fuel minerals to be sold exclusively to county or municipal governments or to be sold by or to a public utility or any parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of a public utility.
(e) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to extraction of non-fuel minerals as an incidental part of the operations and closure of a public or private landfill permitted and regulated by the United States government or the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, for coalbed methane or for oil and gas exploration activities, or for public utility purposes or activities including specifically any activities in connection with the generation, transmission, or distribution of electric power.