The Reagan Administration's Environmental Policies

In the first piece of a regular feature, the environmentalist group Friends of the Earth took a quick inventory of the Reagan Administration's environmental policies.

| November/December 1981

  • 072 friends of the earth
    The Reagan administration's environmental policies—which stood to reverse decades of progress—was of grave concern to the environmentalist group Friends of the Earth.

  • 072 friends of the earth

These are truly odd times for the environmental movement: Unprecedented bumbles and disasters are being hatched almost daily in Washington, while public support for environmental protection is growing at never-before-seen rates. The Reagan administration's emerging environmental policies are threatening to undo nearly a century of hard-won progress ... yet at the same time conservation groups are enjoying dramatic surges in membership and contributions. In the light of such developments, perhaps we should take a look at the Reagan appointees who are—by and large—responsible for the strengthening of positions on both sides of the environmental fence.

Watt's Up at Interior

The Secretary of the Interior is the chief conservation officer of the United States. He's responsible for managing nearly 25% of the nation's lands, including our national parks, wildlife refuges, some recreation areas, the outer continental shelf, and the vast tracts of western acreage that are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. For decades—whether Republicans or Democrats were in power—our Interior Secretaries have pursued a policy of protecting the territory under their control.

But in James Watt we have a new breed of manager, a man who believes that the public lands exist to support the free enterprise economy of our country ... as espoused by his boss, the President. For example, the new Interior Secretary proposes to turn substantial parts of the management of national parks over to private interests. He also wants to "inventory", as he says, public lands for their mineral content ... expecting us to believe that corporations intend to spend millions of dollars on such exploration and then wait happily in the wings until those resources are "really needed." Other actions that bode ill for our environment include attempts to open up oil exploration on the continental shelf (where the majority of our seafood is currently harvested), a partial dismantling of the agencies that oversee strip mining, and a drastic curtailment of government efforts to protect endangered species from extinction (both in our country and abroad).

For these reasons and others which are being added to the list daily, Mr. Watt has inspired widespread criticism, which has led to requests from many groups for his resignation ... and even to the circulation of a recall petition, sponsored by Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and others.

A Dentist to Extract Energy

All of the skills that James Edwards brought to his new job as Secretary of Energy resulted from his working as an oral surgeon and later serving as governor of South Carolina. He's been a relatively quiet administrator so far, although he did suggest—in a controversial interview published by his hometown paper—that the antinuclear movement includes "subversive" elements, "manipulated" by unnamed sinister forces that "want to bring this country to its knees". When pressed for specifics, Secretary Edwards would not elaborate. He has also stated that nuclear power is "the cleanest, safest, and cheapest" source of electricity available ... which, particularly with respect to "cheapest,", shows an astonishing ignorance of dozens upon dozens of recent analyses from sources as diverse as Wall Street and the government itself.

A Logger to Defend the Forests

For years, conservation-minded critics of the U.S. Forest Service have worried that trees are being cut more rapidly than they're being replaced in our national forests. However, John Crowell, the. new Agriculture Department official in charge of the national forests, wants to double the amount of timber cut from those woodlands ... just as he did when he was General
Counsel of the Louisiana Pacific Lumber Company.

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