The Interior Department recommended yesterday that any significant deterioration in air quality be banned in 44 national monument and park areas, mostly in the West.
Energy industry leaders have worried that such action might hamstring efforts to bring more coal or oil shale out of the West, while state and local officials are concerned about the effect on industrial growth.
If state and Indian tribal governments follow the recommendation, which is not certain, further development and mineral exploration in the areas will be subject to "significantly tougher review procedures" on the projects' air pollution impact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the Clean Air Act amendments of 1977, Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus was required to check all 95 so-called "Class II" air quality areas to see if any of them deserved theadditional protection of being named "Class I." The top category prohibits any "significant" new pollution of the air, while Class II is somewhat less strict pollution.
Andrus picked 44 areas for the Class I designation, including three in Florida, one in the Virgin Islands and two in Alaska. The rest are in western states. Although state and tribal governments have sole authority to make the designation, Congress may also act if it sees fit.
Andrus apparently responded to strong pressure from South Carolina and New Mexico in leaving two controversial areas in the Class II category: Congaree Swamp National Monument in South Carolina and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. State officials had argued that both areas were too close to developing areas to remain pristine while still allowing industrial growth.
The Alaska areas designated Class I were Katmai and Glacier Bay, each about 2.8 million acres. None of the lands designated national monuments in 1978 were included in this survey, which covered only federal preserves, monuments and primitive areas names as of mid-1977.
One surprise, according to Interior Department spokesman R. Duncan Morrow, involved the designation of the Muir Woods National Monument in California as a Class I area. It is small, only 553 acres, and surrounded by Class II land.
The department noted, however, that its recommendations are based solely on air quality considerations. "The department recognizes that other factors are also relevant and merit attention before deciding to redesignate an area, including economic and energy considerations," the formal announcement said.
The full list of chosen areas appears in today's Federal Register.