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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.

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

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