When Cecil D. Andrus was governor of Idaho, few men were more popular in the West. Known as the cheerful promoter of Idaho potatoes on national television, he'd won re-election with 71 per cent of the vote and was serving as chairman of the National Governors' Conference.

But in nine months as Secretary of the Interior, a department that has traditionally locked after Western interests. Andrus - with more than a little help from President Carter - seems to have alienated virtually every powerful constituency in the West.

"Bad News Andrus Strikes Again," editorialized the Grand Junction, Colo., Sentinel a few weeks ago. Complaining bitterly about the secretary's plan for strict environmental controls on hardrock mining, the Sentinel fumed, "Andrus says the proposed mining law change won't make him my friends. By the same token, it isn't likely to cost him any friends either - most of the people who really care about the West are his sworn enemies."

Exaggerated, perhaps. But in the profusion of policy changes emanating from the Interior Department, Andrus has managed to delight environmentalists, while infuriating miners, Western politicians, timber companies, farmers, cattleman and oil companies.

Some of the controversies:

"He's pushing legislation to place environmental and economic restrictions on offshore drilling. Oil companies are especially angry about a provision to allow the government to do its own exploring.

He favored a strip-mining bill even stricter than environmentalists proposed, prohibiting strip-mining on prime agricultural lands. Miners sstrongly opposed his plan or a now hardrock mining low, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the environmental requirements will put them out of business.

He published proposals for a national water policy to encourage conservation. Western governors interpreted it as a federal power grab to control their most precious resource.

He's enforcing a 1902 law requiring farmers to sell any federally irrigated land over 160 acres. The regulations have enraged wealthy California farmers who would have to give up thousands of valuable acres.

He's increasing grazing fees on public lands and preparing to set aside vast roadless areas as federally protected wilderness. Cattlemen say business will suffer.

He's called for a moratorium on logging around Redwood National Park while the government enlarges it by 48,000 acres. Timber companies and unions say this would cause unemployment in Northern California.

He's proposed legislation to place more than a third of Alaska into parks and wildlife refuges. Oil and mining companies and state officials say the plan would lock up valuable minerals.

Unlike the East, which is almost entirely privately settled, vast sections of the West are federally owned - 67 per cent of Idaho, for example, 87 per cent of Nevada and 90 per cent of Alaska. The Interior Department controls grazing, mineral development and forestry on 538 million acres.

"I think Westerners perceive us as their department in a possessive sense," Andrus explained in a recent interview. "We supply the nutrients pumped into their economic bloodstream."

The chorus of complaints from Westerners about Andrus' environmental policies has his closest aides worried. "Andrus is the main representative of the West in the Carter administration," said his press secretary, Chris Carlson. "And now he's being universally denounced in the West. Within a year and a half we have elections. The question is, politically, do we become expendable?"

It's a question which doesn't, as yet, seem to bother Andrus. If Carter were running again today, "We wouldn't carry (Western) states," he acknowledges. "But the President and I are concerned about doing what's right and the best politics in the world is being right.

"I didn't come in here to waste my time waffling, to try to be all things to all people. I came in here and told the American people exactly what I was and what I wanted to do and I've been doing it."

Tough words for a man surrounded by a storm of controversy. But Andrus can afford them. He's doing just what Jimmy Carter wants. Carter picked him to be "the environmental voice" of his administration and Andrus has filled the bill.

Indeed, the effort to cancel 30 federal dam and water projects - still a source of bitter resentment in the West - was a White House initiative. The strip-mining law, a new hardrock mining law, a national water policy, new offshore drilling legislation and Alaska parks - all were controversial policies outlined in the President's May environmental message.

Andrus, 46, is no newcomer to environmental vs. development controversies. He was first elected governor in 1970 on a platform opposing plans for a large open-pit molybdenum mine in Idaho's scenic White Cloud mountains. "People laughed and said a conservationist couldn't be elected," Andrus recalled.

"The mine company officers said, "We'll kill you in the election," I said I'm going out to ask your miners how they feel about having the area where they hunt and fish destroyed. Miners make a living mining, but they want a living that's worthwhile. They want to get in their campers on the weekend and go fishing."

The son of a sawmill operator, Andrus dropped out of college to serve in the Navy. He later became a lumberjack, and then production manager for a small Idaho lumber company. He was elected governor after serving in the state Senate.

Despite the controversies, Andrus an affable man of soft-spoken wit, has charmed not only environmentalists but also his frequently jaded department bureaucrats and many of his ideological opponents. "He's one of the most personable guys I've ever met," confessed one oil company executive.

Some of Andrus' former colleagues prefer to blame the President for what they view as anti-Western policies. "We tend to feel the bad things are not Andrus' ideas," said Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, who was distressed about cancellation of three water projects.

But Andrus is enthusiastic about the department's new direction. "When I strolled in here the first day, the user-abuser had more control than he should have had," the secretary said. "There was a need to change from tunnel vision to a broader vision . . . So the industry side is now saying, 'what kind of kook have we got here?' They consider me an adversary because they compare me to what they had before.

"What we are attempting to do is right the wrongs of the past, and some people who will not enjoy the advantages they had in the past are not going to like me. But the department doesn't just belong to the miners and the oil companies; it belongs to the miners, the oil companies, the hunters, the fishermen, the outfitters and birdwatchers, the citizens of America."

Andrus gets mixed reivews from Western congressmen, depending on their environmental views. "Andrus is still listening to special interests," complained Sen. Clifford P. Hansen (R-Wyo.). "But now the special interests are the environmentalists."

Although President Carter has assured states he does not intend to infringe on local water rights, Hansen said, "The present water plan to have the federal government exert a dominant influencing in allocating water is rather frightening." Andrus is planning to recommend a broad water conservation plan to the White House next month.

Sen Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) is cochairman of the Western caucus, recently reviewed in response to the water issue. "The regulations coming out of Interior are making the states feel like colonies," he said, citing, for example, new mining rules "which would put the small prospector out of business."

Sen. Lee Metcalf (D-Mont.), however, applauds Andrus' environmental initiatives. "This is the first Interior Department since Stewart Udall's that has really protected a good many of the Western interests," he said. "Andrus has come out for strong strip-mining legislation, and that is a special Western concern."

When he took office Andrus promised to tame interior's "fiefdoms." The Bureau of Mines, which oversees mineral leasing, the Bureau of Reclamation, which builds dams, and the Bureau of Land Management, which controls grazing, had virtually run themselves in recent years, allied with powerful interests in industry, agriculture and on Capitol Hill. Frequently, they'd lobby the Hill at cross purposes with secretarial policy.

Nine months into the job, Andrus says. "I haven't won them all, but we're breaking them up."

Unlike previous secretaries whose aides were largely chosen by the White House, Andrus had unprecedented freedom to pick his assistant secretaries and bureau chiefs. Thus, they are responsible chiefly to him, and not, as in previous years, to outside political sponsors.

One of his first actions was to "establish a clear chain of command" by removing any autonomous authority the bureau had, and forcing them to report directly to the assistant secretaries. Policy now comes from Andrus' office, often worked out in daily 8 a.m. sessions with all assistant secretaries and key staff.

Among Andrus' closest advisors are 10 Idahoans, referred to by oldtimers as the "Idaho Mafia." These include Solicitor Leo Krulitz, Adrus' former campaign manager; congressional liaison Gary Catron, and press secretary Carlson. Insiders say former Alaska coordinator Curtis Bohlen was fired when he ran a foul of the secretary's special assistant, John Hough, another Idahoan.

However, Andrus has dhired talent from around the country, as well as many Washington environmentalists such as Cynthia Wilson of the Andubon Society and Joe Browder of the Environmental Policy Center. One controversial appointment, not yet confirmed by the Senate, has been that of San Francisco Supervisor Robert Mendelsohn as assistant secretary for policy budget and administration.Mendelsohn has been accused of laundering campaign funds and conflicts of interest while a member of the California Coastal Commission.

Although Andrus indulges in some hard-nosed rhetoric about "user-abusers," he also says, "I'm not a knee-jerk environmentalist."

Environmentalists have been reluctant to criticize him - perhaps because so many are now installed in the new administration - but a number of his decisions have gone against them. For instance, he decided to appeal two environmental lawsuits the department lost, one voiding East Coast offshore leases, another limiting coal leasing. He infuriated animal protection groups by recommending that the United States object to a ban on bowhead whale hunting by Alaskan Eskimos.

Andrus has shown himself willing to compromise on occasion. When water policy proposals enraged Western governors, he quickly set up a federal-state task force to draw final recommendations. Although he is enforcing the 160-acre limit for federally irrigated land, he plans to seek legislation enlarging the acreage under certain conditions.

"He's willing to listen even when we disagree," says Nevada Gov. Mike O'Callaghan. "As long as there's room for negotiation, its not all that bad." O'Callaghan said Andrus changed two policies in Nevada after the state complained, one dealing with water flow on a local dam, another with boating rules in a wildlife refuge.

Andrus predicts that what is now seen by some as extreme environmentalism will be viewed in the future as the resoration of balance at the Interior Department.

"We're bringing the pendulum down to the center," he said. "By midyear of 1978, you'll see the polls change. People are going to see the wisdom in what we do."

Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Interior Committee and a longtime department observer, agrees. "Andrus is not going all that well among the Western types who are used to having someone favor the timber, cattle and mining people, the people who run the vig irrigation systems.

"But it's all part of the Interior Department coming of age. It isn't a little public land company anymore."