A picture may be worth a thousand words in a federal report -- unless it is a booklet printed in color on glossy paper that paints a controversial program as an unqualified success.
Then, the picture is guaranteed to attract the ire of Congress.
That is what happened yesterday to the Office of Surface Mining, which this summer printed 2,946 copies of a 50-page booklet celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), who chairs the House Government Operations subcommittee on environment, energy and natural resources that oversees the Interior Department, said he is furious over the booklet, which he castigated as typical of the office's approach to its shortcomings.
"Instead of coming to grips with their problems, they spend their resources trying to mask them with cosmetics," he said.
The booklet, which cost $10 a copy to print, proclaims that the reclamation act has been an unqualified success and offers 87 color photographs of manicured old mining sites. The old mines have become an apple orchard in Virginia, a buffalo ranch in Montana, a Christmas tree farm in Washington and housing sites in Kentucky, the report said.
"While a pretty picture may be worth a thousand words, it is not any good to a farmer who can't grow crops on his land or a family who can't drink water polluted with . . . drainage," said Synar, a longtime critic of the way the office has enforced the mining act.
Titled "Surface Coal Mining Reclamation: 10 Years of Progress, 1977-1987," the booklet hails the law as "a real American success story." It credits the coal industry for taking a law that "was thought by many to be unworkable and an economic disaster" and making it work.
" . . . The coal industry has generally met the challenge by utilizing ingenuity and state-of-the-art technology to operate successfully and within the law," the booklet says.