SUDDENLY, AND FORTUNATELY, the way seems clear for a federal strip-mine bill to become law. The most recent votes - 241 to 64 in the House and 15 to 3 in a Senate energy committee - reflect an ongoing concern. Although the Carter administration wants to extend the reign of king coal, it realizes that the excesses of strip miners have persisted too long without federal restraints. Officials of the Interior Department, including Secretary Cecil Andrus, have been among those working for strong restraints.
Several features of the House bill promise not only to protect the land from the ravages of stripping but also to bring relief to citizens unlucky enough to live near the coal seems. It a strip miner, for example, wants to blast a tract of land (using explosives to unloosen the soil above the coal), his plans must first be submitted for approval. Stories are common in Appalachia of rocks plunging through rooftops and of foundations of homes being shaken by indiscriminate blasting. Other citizen protections require the written consent of owners of owners of land over federally owned and private coal. Previous legislation only addressed federally owned coal. The House bill survived serveral attempts to weaken the requirement to eliminate highwalls - the scars that line countless Appalachain hills, farmers and cattlemen would be protected by provisions calling for the preservation and replacement of soil that is disturbed by stripping.
The Senate bill, as it has emerged from committee, shows less commitment to protect land and water resources. It protects owners of land over only federal owned coal. The protection of alluvial valley floors is less stringent. For all but the largest operations, the bill would go into effect 30 months after enactment. The Senate bill does not deal with special reclamation of prime agricultural lands.
Before the bill goes to a conference committee, the full Senate ought to examine closely what is coming before it. Some tightening is needed.