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Interior's Flexible Approach to Strip Mining: Energy Self-Sufficiency Through Minimal Environmental Protection

September 1976

Citation: ELR 10198

Under heavy administration and industry pressure to end its five-year moratorium on the leasing of federal coal lands, the Interior Department has issued a series of regulations that permit massive strip mining of western coal deposits. In a claim that is disputed by environmentalists, Secretary Kleppe has asserted that the flexible nature of these coal leasing procedures and mining operation standards will ensure achievement of the goal of 300 million tons of annual coal production on federal lands by 1985 through mining procedures consistent with the requirements of environmental protection.1

Revision of the regulations is a certainty, since the recently enacted Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 1975 requires additional mechanisms to prevent monopoly development of coal resources and mandates stricter supervision of site selection.2 And although the reclamation standards set in the rules have yet to be directly challenged, the state of Wyoming is seeking to eliminate provisions which allow the Secretary to preempt more stringent state reclamation standards.3 Moreover, despite enactment of the Coal Leasing Amendments, congressional delay in passing a bill aimed specifically at strip mining increases the likelihood that western coal development will occur under rules so flexible that mine operators may avoid even minimal reclamation efforts and environmental quality safeguards.

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