A blistering expose of a national obscenity: the vast strip-mining plans which are just getting underway on the western edge of the Great Plains, in the name of Project Independence. Toole (History, Univ. of Montana) is an unabashedly partisan opponent of the coal interests and their Washington cohorts. Strip mining is not going to win popularity contests anywhere, but the western plains ecology is particularly ill-suited to withstand the depredations which the energy companies and the Department of the Interior are presenting as a public necessity. The Montana-Wyoming water supplies are as precarious as they are precious; they will be irrevocably damaged by the breakup of ""overburden"" over hundreds of thousands of square miles, the removal of thick seams of coal which hold and filter ground water, the withdrawal of up to 50 percent (in dry years) of the Yellowstone's annual flow to meet the thirst of the biggest generating plants on earth. There will be other drastic effects like sulfur dioxide pollution, and electrochemical repercussions from the 500-kilovolt lines which will run straight through the Continental Divide to the Pacific Northwest. Wyoming has taken these horrors in its stride, but Toole tells us that Montana residents--notably the Crow and Cheyenne tribes under whose reservations much of the coal lies--are made of sterner stuff. Still, it seems only a matter of time until one irate Montanan's ""Why in the hell should I electrify your toothbrush in Minneapolis?"" is answered by force majeure cloaked in patriotic rhetoric. Ross Toole's writing sometimes spins out of control, but he has performed an incalculable service for every citizen ever taken in by presidential blatherskite about continued strength through continued growth.