President Carter sent a comprehensive environmental message to Congress yesterday calling for stricter enforcement of air and water pollution laws, environmental safeguards on energy development and a coordinated attack on chemical pollution.
Environmentalists said the message represents a substantial improvement over Republican policy, although it does not call for bold innovations. Industry criticized the program as "blindly following the environmental line."
The 36-page message, accompanied by five executive orders and a dozen legislative proposals, "represents the sharpest shift in policy on environmental matters since Teddy Roosevelt," said Charles Warren, head of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Warren, who conducted the White House briefing on the message, said it takes the nation "beyond the conservation ethic" initiated by Roosevelt at the turn of the century. It establishes, he said, that "further economic progress requires us to safeguard the environment."
The message represents a $66 million increase in the 1978 budget, according to CEQ, of which $50 million would be spent on state and local water pollution plans to capture urban and agricultural runoff.
"I'd be hard pressed to say anything in the message if radically innovative," said Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), cochairman of the House-Senate Environmental Study Conference. "There's no suggestion of bold new initiatives, but I don't know if any are called for."
Hart praised the President's emphasis on enforcement. "If he's prepared to hold industry's feet to the fire, thay may be his major accomplishment," Hart said.
However, the enforcement pledge was greeted with skepticism by Robert Rauch, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney. "Carter makes sweeping statements, but he's not putting his money where his mouth is," said Rauch, who formerly worked for the Environmental Protection Agency.
"To have strict enforcement, EPA would need a minimum of 150 more lawyers and technical people," Rauch said. "Large numbers of industries are not meeting water standards, but EPA has given them extensions because it doesn't have the manpower to prosecute them."
In air pollution alone, Rauch said, it would "require a small army to force compliance from a big polluter like the Tennessee Valley Authority which has been thumbing its nose at EPA for three years." TVA power plants do not meet air pollution standards.
As the Chamber of Commerce sees it, however the nation needs relaxation of enforcement. "We're super-disappointed" in the message, said Chamber lobbyist Gary Knight. "Carter's policy on air and energy don't mix. You need tradeoffs on air pollution if you want to convert coal. Otherwise, no one is going to convert."
Industry is especially disturbed that Carter wants to require the best technology available to control chemical discharges in the water by 1983, Knight said. "The 1977 standards require 85 per cent cleanup. The 1983 standards would require 95 per cent cleanup at a cost of $95 to $182 billion."
Although there is a movie in Congress to relax the 1983 standards, Carter asked EPA to give "highest priority" to develop those standards in order to protect public health from poisonous chemicals in the water.
Carter's commitment to a strict water pollution law is "one of many things that m ake the message like a breeze of fresh air after an eight-year pollution alert," said Peter Harnik, coordinator of Environmental Action, a lobby group here.
However, Harnik criticized the President for ordering a study of solid waste disposal charges - fees on consumer goods to cover their disposal - instead of endorsing a national "bottle bill." The bottle bill, adopted by four states, would require deposits on all beverage containers.
"An 800-page Federal Energy Administration study estimated that a container deposit law would save 81,000 barrels of oil a day and climinate 65 per cent of roadside litter and 7 per cent of the nation's garbage," Harnik said.
Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Interior Committee, praised Carter's support for new wilderness areas and for reform of the 1872 Mining Act. The law, which allows almost unlimited mining on public lands, is "a dangerous assault on the environment," Udall said. "This is the first time I remember a President saying we ought to change it."