A MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL victory was quietly recorded last Thursday when Senate and House conferees finally approved a strip mine bill. Both houses are expected to pass the legislation and send it on to the President for signing by the end of the month. In his campaign, Mr. Carter's strong feelings about controls on strip mining attracted the support of many citizens who believe in what Aldo Leopold, the American conservationist, called "a land ethic." It is fitting that the first environmental bill to be signed by the President will put federal controls on what is surely the most destructive violence ever done to American's land.
Although the inevitable trade-offs occurred in the conference committee, the legislation has several strengths. A reclamation fund has been created for abandoned mines, the grotesque scars of mountain highwalls will not be permitted, strip miners will not be allowed to blast on coal sites indiscriminately, the written consent of individuals who own land but not the mineral rights is required, and citizens will be part of the review process by which state agencies decide which sites should or should not be stripped. The last provision ought to be emotionally uplifting for many in the Appalachian coalfields, because so often in the past their voices have been ignored, with calamitous results.
For the strip-mining industry, the bill ought not to be taken as a devastating defeat. For one thing, many of its amendments have been written into the law - such as special provisions offering leniency for small operators. For another, those coal companies run by clear-thinking executives coal under standards that have been thoroughly debated. The doubts have ended on what limits are to be imposed. If the industry can convert the immense energies it has spent in fighting the legislation to carrying out the intention of the new law, both the operators and the public will be served.