THE GROWN-UPS have taken back control of administration ozone policy. Secretary of State George Shultz has written a letter to Attorney General Edwin Meese, head of the Domestic Policy Council, saying State intends to continue pursuing an international ozone agreement unless the president himself orders it not to.
The issue had been allowed to arise in the Domestic Council, where Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, who had had very little to do with it before, suddenly turned out to be gravely concerned. He suggested that the president needed more alternatives than the one being pursued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. The problem is that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used in industry worldwide are thought to be rising into the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer, which keeps out ultraviolet radiation. Scientists think that an increase in radiation might in turn increase skin cancer, harm plants and accelerate the "greenhouse effect" through which air pollutants are said to threaten the Earth's climate.
State is trying to negotiate a worldwide compact to limit CFC production. Mr. Hodel was reported to have suggested that an alternative might simply be to encourage people to protect themselves outdoors, with such homely remedies as sunglasses, sun lotions and hats. He now says he never said that. He nevertheless is continuing to press for review of the policy, which some conservatives see as a violation of the administration's anti-regulatory philosophy. The gratuitous review is what Mr. Shultz has now moved to stop.
The administration position was not idly arrived at. The EPA in recent years has hardly been an alarmist agency. On the contrary, it has been a center of cost-benefit doubt. On this issue, however, administrator Lee Thomas had become convinced by the science. He was perhaps helped toward that conviction by the fact that industry, too, has come to accept the idea of production limits, partly because the chemical companies think they have alternatives to CFCs, which are mainly used in air conditioners, foam products and as solvents.
A provisional pact was negotiated earlier this year under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program first to freeze production at 1986 levels, then to cut it by 20 percent over two years and perhaps another 30 percent two to four years after that. The administration was in the lead in this important process, to which no one of consequence seemed to be objecting. That is where Mr. Hodel came in. Mr. Shultz is right to slap him dow