Outlook for the Reagan Administration’s Environmental Policy

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As it concerned environmental policy, the Regan administration may have shuffled its hand but the deck was full of jokers.

President Reagan’s second term has already witnessed major shifts in staff assignments, including important changes in most agencies with environmental responsibilities. How this will affect Reagan administration environmental policy is not clear, but early portents are not encouraging.

The first to go — scant days after the election — was William Ruckelshaus, whom the president had called back to the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the mess left behind by Anne Gorsuch Burford. Ruckelshaus was replaced by his deputy, Lee Thomas, whose first major act was to reverse a sensible EPA position in opposition to Westway, a huge highway project boondoggle on the west shore of Manhattan. A harbinger?

Perhaps. Soon after Ruckelshaus left the administration, he was followed by Interior Secretary William Clark, who had been put into his job to settle the dust kicked up by his predecessor, James Watt. Clark was replaced by Donald Hodel, until recently secretary of energy. Hodel earned a modicum of notoriety for dreaming up — and then selling to many small utilities — a five-nuclear-power-plant system in Washington State (the infamous WPPSS). The system has been a fiscal disaster almost from the beginning and recently resulted in the biggest bond default in American history. Hodel’s first act as interior secretary was to offer for lease several million acres on the outer continental shelf off northern California, something that Congress had prevented both Watt and Clark from doing. (It’s likely that Hodel will be slapped down as well.)