THE METAMORPHOSIS OF JAMES WATT AND WHAT IT DOESN'T MEAN
A curious change has come over Interior Secretary James Watt. Last month he said he would stop attacking "environmental extremists," and would even refrain from using that once-favorite expression. He has since taken several surprisingly pro-environment stands, including his announced opposition to the proposed Dickey-Lincoln Dam that would have destroyed much of the St. John River in northern Maine. But Watt's critics aren't letting down their guard. They know that whatever Watt himself may be up to, the scourge they have come to call Wattism continues to permeate the Reagan Administration.
One routine example of what they mean is the reaction of an official in Watt's own Interior Department to a request by the Florida Power and Light Company for a variance to burn oil with a sulfur content 250% higher than that allowable under federal law at two plants near Everglades National Park. Park officials reportedly prepared a statement opposing the variance for presentation at a hearing on the subject only to have the statement vetoed by Interior's associate solicitor for parks, J. Roy Spradley. A spokesman for Spradley said the statement was just being revised. Spradley, a Watt appointee, is a former executive of Florida Power and Light. His involvement in any fashion in the dispute would seem to raise a serious question of ethics.
Even more disturbing are the policies of another Watt prot�g�e, Anne Gorsuch, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is pushing for budget and personnel cuts that could well make the "Protection" in the agency's title a misnomer. Under Gorsuch the EPA has cut the number of cases of pollution-law violations sent to the Justice Department for prosecution to a fraction of what they were in previous years. The official explanation is that the EPA prefers a "nonconfrontational" approach. Asked by SI to provide an example of how this approach works, EPA spokesman Byron Nelson cited an agreement in September under which a paint company promised to help clean up a chemical waste site at Santa Fe Springs near Los Angeles at which there was a fire for several days last summer, resulting in the closing of a stretch of Pacific beach and the death of as many as 700,000 fish. Yet Nelson's example proves exactly the opposite of what he intended. For one thing, the paint company wasn't bowing to moral suasion alone; it also had the incentive of a very real lawsuit brought against it by the California Department of Health Services. Further, 36 other parties that the EPA notified as "responsible" for the fire didn't even bother to respond, prompting the agency's chief enforcement officer, William A. Sullivan, to threaten to take "enforcement action." Coming from an agency preaching a nonconfrontational gospel, that threat has little credibility.
Now consider the case of James McAvoy, the former environmental protection chief of Ohio. In that capacity he ridiculed environmentalists and was at least partly to blame for the fact that Ohio remains the only state without a federally approved sulfur dioxide emission-control plan. One former colleague has recounted how recommendations for legal action against polluters had a way of "disappearing" after they reached McAvoy's desk. Last year McAvoy testified at a House hearing that he didn't think acid rain was a very serious problem. Nevertheless, he was nominated by President Reagan to become one of three members of the Council on Environmental Quality, which has been given the job of coordinating Administration policy on acid rain. After an uproar over the nomination and the discovery that McAvoy had taken "poetic license," as he subsequently put it, on the r�sum� he submitted to the White House, Reagan withdrew the nomination. But McAvoy is working at the CEQ after all—as a senior staff member. With the council-member post still unfilled, the suspicion is that McAvoy has wound up in a position of comparable influence while avoiding a potentially messy Senate confirmation fight. McAvoy would have received a $52,750 salary as a council member. As a senior staff member, he gets $50,112.50.
Public opinion polls show that the American people unwaveringly support strong antipollution measures. Last month Pollster Louis Harris warned a House subcommittee that any efforts to gut or circumvent environmental legislation could result in defeat in next year's Congressional elections. Environmentalists have accordingly pledged to get out the "green vote" against candidates adjudged to be soft on pollution. It would be heartening to think that James Watt's recent actions represent a true conversion. Unfortunately, the Reagan Administration's overall environmental approach makes it difficult to believe that his turnabout is anything other than a cynical reaction to political realities.
In a Brooklyn federal courtroom last week, former college basketball player Rick Kuhn was on trial on charges that he and four codefendants had participated in a point-shaving scheme also allegedly involving, at least peripherally, three teammates. In Shreveport, La., police said they were investigating a burglary in an apartment and found Kenny Smith, a quarterback for the recently disbanded semipro Shreveport Steamer, hiding in a closet; they said that after booking Smith, they went to his home and found TV sets, stereo components, rare coins and other loot from a score of previous burglaries. In Chicago, former NFL Quarterback Jack Concannon is scheduled to go on trial early next month on charges he sold 2.2 pounds of cocaine to an undercover agent.
It may be mere coincidence that Kuhn, Smith and Concannon are all former Boston College athletes. One could probably scour the alumni rolls of other universities and find quite a few people, athletes among them, who have had brushes with the law. Still, there's reason to reflect on the testimony at the Brooklyn point-shaving trial given by another former Boston College student, Barbara Reed, who said that she lived with Kuhn during the 1978-79 season, that she became aware he was shaving points and that he threatened to kill her if she breathed a word about the scheme to anybody else. Obscured by this sensational testimony was an insight Reed offered into the extent of Kuhn's academic involvement in the college. "Rick didn't graduate from college," she said. "He never went to classes."
That last assertion may not be quite as shocking as accusations of point-shaving, burglary or cocaine dealing. But, if true, it does suggest that Boston College, like many other schools, may have helped impart the notion to its athletes that they were special characters to whom ordinary rules don't apply. Somehow the accusation doesn't seem wholly unrelated to the bind in which former Eagle athletes now find themselves.