Rep. Morris K. Udall {op-ed, Aug. 12} acknowledged many of the positive accomplishments in reclaiming coal-mined land during the past 10 years, but also expressed strong disappointment with the agency responsible for implementing the mine reclamation law, calling it "moribund," as though the reclamation accomplishments he applauded happened all by themselves.

Land reclamation does not just happen. People make it happen. Because people have been administering and obeying the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, successful land reclamation and environmental protection have become routine in coal mining. The reclamation of land has become the rule, not the exception, over the last decade. That's the legacy of the Surface Mining Act, signed into law Aug. 3, 1977.

The law created the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, established performance standards for coal-mining operations to protect the environment, authorized state enforcement programs and provided funding for reclamation of abandoned mines. Congress called for a balance between protection of the environment and agricultural productivity and the country's need for coal as an essential source of energy. Although there is more work to do, the United States is reaching that balance. Since 1977, more than 2,300 square miles of land have been reclaimed -- an area larger than the state of Delaware.

David G. Todd, vice president of Ashland Coal Co., noted in a recent speech: "The Surface Mining Act's public image defies its progress. The law has brought much needed stability to reclamation practices. The performance standards are attainable and the vast majority of operators are complying with the law."

"Anyone who has visited a modern mine can see the environmental benefits of large investments and modern technology. Moreover, coal people don't want to turn back the clock. There's no question that environmental quality is now accepted as good and necessary," Mr. Todd said.

There are encouraging signs as we begin the next 10 years of this program. The coal industry, states and environmentalists closed ranks to support a 1987 amendment eliminating a much-abused exemption from the law. President Reagan signed the legislation in May.

There is near-unanimous support for our program of encouraging coal companies to re-mine abandoned sites, reclaiming the land as part of the process. Everyone benefits: more energy is produced and more land is reclaimed.

We have reached out to obtain as much consensus as possible among all interested parties on how regulations remanded by the courts can be revised to be acceptable. This work is being completed on schedule.

We have a closer working relationship with the states -- helping them with enforcement problems rather than looming over them like "Big Brother," threatening federal takeover of their programs. We have decentralized our field operations to reinforce this positive relationship.

In addition, we have helped states institute subsidence insurance programs so that people living in the coal fields can, at reasonable rates, protect against the costs of damage to their homes and businesses by shifting or sinking ground over abandoned underground coal mines.

As the program enters its second decade, the Surface Mining Act -- more than most people realize -- is living up to its central promise of ensuring protection of the environment, reclamation of mined lands and efficient recovery of coal resources.

JED D. CHRISTENSEN Director Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement U.S. Department of the Interior Washington