The state's coal industry won a victory yesterday when the Senate approved a bill opening additional land in Western Maryland to strip mining.
By a vote of 30 to 16, the Senate sent to the governor legislation repealing a 10-year-old ban on steep-slope strip mining. There was no debate.
Maryland is the only one of 26 coal-producing states to prohibit strip mining on land with a greater than 20-degree angle.
Gov. Harry Hughes has said he may veto the bill.
The secretary of natural resources, Torrey Brown, said that the administration still needs to review the final legislation before taking a position.
The legislation would give the state authority to reject a steep-slope mining application on any of a number of grounds, including the performance of a mine operator.
The state's coal mining industry launched a major lobbying effort this year to lift the ban, saying repeal would give miners in Maryland's two westernmost counties, Garrett and Allegany, access to 38 million tons of coal.
A coalition of environmentalists, conservationists and residents living near potential mining sites has fought to keep the present law intact. They said there is no evidence yet of long-term success in the reclamation of steep slopes, which are more unstable than flat land.