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JAMES WATT AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
The abrasive style and controversial decisions of Interior Secretary James Watt are making him the biggest liability of the Reagan Administration. Perhaps predictably, any number of environmental groups have called for his dismissal, but now the demand for his ouster is popping up in the most unlikely places. Two newspapers in Utah, so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" country—the Salt Lake City Tribune, an independently owned Republican daily with a conservative tilt, and the Ogden Standard-Examiner, a fiercely independent paper—have taken swats at Watt. The Tribune, which originally found Watt's appointment "laudable," now says, "We apparently were mistaken," while the Standard-Examiner has warned editorially that Watt is "diluting Western support of Reagan." The paper noted, "Westerners are interested in the budget and taxes and the turbulent world around us. However, millions of residents of Utah and nearby states are even more concerned about what might happen to the forests and recreation lands they love so much."
For all this, Watt's critics miss one big point. The Secretary's policies reflect the Administration's attitude toward the environment. "[Watt's] actions represent the President's views," says White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III. The only thing the White House doesn't like is Watt's confrontational stance, and in an effort to reduce the public outcry it has told the Secretary to clear all new policy announcements with the White House before going public. If Watt does become too much of a liability—the Republican state chairman in California has already expressed concern that Watt may hurt G.O.P. chances in 1982—he'll go, but the odds are that he would be replaced by someone with a smoother manner but the same ideological bent.
The Reagan Administration is filled with appointees who think very much like Watt. There is Anne Gorsuch, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who suggested in a memo to the White House that there was no need to advocate amendment of the Clean Air Act's health standards, which industry claims are restrictive. She said "more reasonable standards could be developed within the present language" that would fulfill the Administration's ecnomic goals while avoiding the negative publicity on this "highly charged" issue. There is James McAvoy, awaiting confirmation to the three-member Council on Environmental Quality, who refuses to admit that acid rain is a very serious problem. And there is John Crowell, a former timber-company lawyer now in charge of the U.S. Forest Service, who says, "Most of the overstated concern by environmental organizations is for the purpose of raising money from a loyal and largely unquestioning membership." Below them is a host of appointees in environmentally sensitive posts. According to one high official who has decided to leave the EPA, "If I had to rate the quality of the people coming into EPA on a scale of one to 10, I'd rate them two."
Some might even rate a minus two. Take Dr. Norman C. Roberts of San Diego, the President's choice to become director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At a get-acquainted meeting set up by the White House with representatives of the American Fisheries Society, the American Forestry Association and other professional organizations, Roberts discussed his qualifications. He had furnished the garden in which Reagan announced his candidacy for the governorship of California in 1965. He had finished in the top four-fifths of his high school class. Until 1958, when he became a financial analyst, he practiced as a veterinarian, specializing in vaccinating and castrating hogs because more complicated tasks led, he said, to "utter confusion." Dr. Roberts allowed that he once mistook a male cat for a female cat and performed an operation to remove the cat's nonexistent ovaries. (Roberts later said his remarks were intended to be tongue in cheek.) The professionals were appalled, and 10 organizations represented at the meeting have called on the President not to nominate Roberts. In a letter to Reagan, they pointed out that the law requires the director to have educational and managerial experience in the field, but a check of Roberts' transcripts at San Diego State, where he claimed he majored in zoology in 1939-40, showed he took only a botany course.
Ronald Reagan is riding a political high right now after his tax-cut victory in Congress, but the President had better take another look at his environmental policies because they could cost him and his party—and the U.S.—dearly down the line. Russell Peterson, a former Republican governor of Delaware who now heads the National Audubon Society, says the President is surrounded by "ecological illiterates" who haven't the slightest glimmer of what clean air and clean water really mean to either the environment or the economy. Wall Street broker Dan Lufkin, a big Reagan backer, is simply baffled by the Administration's stance. Lufkin headed a Reagan task force that drew up a report on the environment for the President just after his election. Lufkin says the President was pleased with the report, which was very sensitive to environmental needs, but now Lufkin says, "I don't know what happened.... I don't understand except that the President has a cadre of advisers about appointments, whether it's [Paul] Laxalt, Adolph Coors or whether it's Jesse Helms. But in goes Watt and in goes Gorsuch...who are just off the page. Those people are unbelievable!"
Obviously, Reagan should look elsewhere. There are credible people knowledgeable in both environmental matters and sound business practices, who insist that cost-effectiveness can be intelligently applied to our natural resources. They seem to be in tune with the country in rejecting extremism from either side. Reagan's people aren't listening to the public—which has shown it is intensely environment-conscious in recent polls—when they draw the line between what is reasonable and what is too much.
MORE NEWS FROM THE FRONT
In the South, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. remained a hotbed of strife. Late in July, Defender Elias Figueroa of the Strikers (an apt name for a professional team these days) said he would file a $2 million suit against Forward Bob Newton and the Jacksonville Tea Men because of injuries he had received in a North American Soccer League game. Figueroa, who suffered massive facial damages, was angry, too, because he felt the NASL's punishment of Newton—a $250 fine and a two-game suspension—was much too mild. (Newton's personal troubles were compounded when he was arrested by Florida police last week and charged in a hit-and-run accident.)