Kentucky failed to make nearly one-fourth of the inspections required in the first three months it was responsible for enforcing strip mine laws, a study by the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining said. State inspectors also didn't issue as many citations as federal inspectors thought they should since the state assumed the main responsibility for its 7,300 strip mines in May, the study found. And it said state inspectors were three to 12 times more likely to write a violation when accompanied by a federal inspector than when making rounds alone.

But OSM officials minimized the problems yesterday. "People think you pass a law and everything snaps into shape, but that's wrong. These things take time," said agency spokesman Dick Leonard. He added that Kentucky's problems weren't very different from those encountered by the 24 other states that have taken over inspections from the federal government.

In response, Larry Grasch, the Kentucky official responsible for inspections, said: "We're dealing with an industry that's a tremendous asset to the state. We want to see that it operates in an environmentally sound manner, but there can always be a question over how far you take that.