TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING, follow the floods in central Appalachia last April, many citizens didn't blame the rains for their sufferings as much as the proximity of strip-minded hills. With the sides of the mountains deforested, they held, the rainfall and had little chance to be absorbed. When it ran off the slopes, the stream and rivers below were so clogged with sediment - from the same strip mines - that the banks easily overflowed.
At the time, it wasn't possible to get be absolutely sure about that theory. Coal operators certainly discounted it, as well as a few public officials.In the weeks following the floods, however, investigators from the House subcommittee on enviroment, energy and natural resources began visiting tha flood-plains where more than 5,000 families lost their homes. A few days ago, the subcommittee held hearings on some of its findings. One of the witnesses, Frank Spadaro, a mining engineer for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, compared the effects of rainfall along two rivers in West Virginia. Flood damage along the Greenbrier River was much less severe than the damage along the Tug Fork River. Mr. Sparado reported that no strip-mining occurs along the watershed of the Greenbrier, whereas the Tug Fork is heavily stripped. As for whether or not citizens were imaging things, the mining engineer noted that between April 2 and 5 the rainfall in the less damaged Greenbrier valley was nearly two inches more than in the Tug Fork's . In other words, the area of striping had less rain but more economic damage - almost 50 times as much damage, according to Mr. Sparado.
The significance of the hearings is not only the addition of new information about the linkage between flooding and strip-mining. The information itself bears directly on the new strip-mine law about to be signed by President Carter. Among this law's most useful provisions are those for controlling the destructive effects of strip-mining in area where flooding is prevent. These controls, if they prove effective, would make it the rule, for the first time, that in certain flood-threatened areas, homes and businesses are to be valued more highly than the absolute freedom to strip-mine coal. With the information it has gathered , the subcommittee ought to move forward to recommend ways for the new law to be enforced in area where flooding areas where flooding and stripping are causing havoc.