Tapping US wilderness up for committee debate

The sensitive debate over whether the nation's wilderness system should be opened up to natural resource exploitation will surface again this week at a House Interior subcommittee hearing.

Interior Secretary James Watt last year directed his agency's laywers to find ways to ''open wilderness areas.'' On Friday, the House subcommittee takes up a proposal to put the wilderness system off limits for oil and gas drilling as well as mining of coal and minerals.

Under the 1964 National Wilderness Preservation Act, mineral and energy leasing in designated wilderness areas will be terminated by 1984.

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