During his presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan suggested that "growing and decaying vegetation in this land are responsible for 93 per cent of the oxides of nitrogen abroad in the environment." Reagan, of course, mistook nitrous oxide, a product of plant respiration, with the pollutant, nitrogen dioxide. And his gaffe led to the phrase "killer trees" and a placards like the one attached to a tree at Claremont College that read "Chop Me Down Before I Kill Again."

The nation's trees might receive kinder treatment if James F. McAvoy, a White House nominee to the Council on Environmental Quality, is confirmed by the Senate. When McAvoy was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency in Ohio in 1979, he confessed he liked to hug trees.

Discussing his personal philosophy in an interview with an EPA employes' newsletter, McAvoy said he'd become "almost missionary" about a book called Love by Dr. Leo Buscaglia.

"It's where I come from now," said McAvoy, "kind of a love-every-

body thing, but first of all learn to love

yourself and learn to hug yourself.

The thing that I do that amuses some

of my friends is, if you haven't tried

it, go hug a tree. Those poor trees are

standing there and nobody ever hugs

a tree. I'll be walking through a park

and I just go up and hug a tree, which

will crack everybody up and they'll say who's that nut? But, from it, I've learned things that are kind of along the meditation line."

McAvoy's critics in Ohio say he wasn't all that mellow, and news stories have sug gested his nomination might run into

trouble in the Senate. Jack Anderson,

citing unnamed sources, reported the

FBI's background check turned up

"sensitive security problems." And

the Dayton Journal Herald reported

that McAvoy hyped his r,esum,e and, in Ohio, tried to use his state office to politic against Jimmy Carter's environmental policies. McAvoy, now working as a member- designate at the CEQ, deinies the accusa tions, but admits his fondness for trees.

"I think trees are great," he says.

"You just have to be careful which one you hug, though.

You have to be careful if it's a blue spruce."