There's a dish sometimes served in a few of West Virginia's southern counties where mining is an essential part of the economy--it's called "baloney" salad. Mary McGrory, in her Nov. 21 Outlook column about a recent, potentially disastrous federal court ruling on mountaintop mining, has served up a heaping plateful.

About the ruling, McGrory writes: "The judge pointed out that leveling mountaintops was illegal." He most assuredly did not. The practice known as mountaintop mining is not only legal but Congress also specifically made provisions to allow for the method when crafting the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

Contrary to McGrory's claim that an amendment I, along with the rest of the West Virginia congressional delegation, was offering would "produce an 'unprecedented' loophole in the Clean Water Act," my amendment specifically stated that it in no way "supersedes, undermines, displaces, or amends" requirements of the Clean Water Act or the environmental protections it provides. In addition, in his decision, Judge Charles H. Haden II said that he was merely interpreting the laws (an interpretation that does not comport with congressional intent in crafting those laws), and that he was leaving it up to the Congress and the state legislature to remedy the situation.

Given the potential impact of the judge's decision and the uncertainty of his subsequent stay, we had no alternative but to attempt to prevent wholesale disinvestment in my state by nervous industries and a resulting loss of thousands of jobs.

Under my amendment, West Virginia would be subject to a stronger set of environmental regulations than any other state. Those rules were established in an agreement crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Surface Mining.

I appreciate and share the concern that McGrory and others exhibit for our mountains. I only wish that she and others would exhibit the same concern for working people. Those dirty mines they so revile do put food on the table for thousands of families and just happen to provide the power required to run businesses and heat homes throughout the eastern United States.

--Robert C. Byrd

The writer is a Democratic senator from West Virginia.