The Republican chairman-to-be of the Senate Energy Committee isn't all that sure he wants to go along with one of the main things Ronald Reagan promised in his presidential campaign -- abolish the Department of Energy.
While James A. McClure is prepared to pare off some parts of the department he said "it is premature to judge" whether it ought to be completely dismantled, as Reagan has urged.
As chairman, the Idahoan will seek "as soon as possible" to abolish DOE's Economic Regulatory Administration, a major and controversial branch which regulates oil and gasoline pricing and allocation, he said in an interview. Beyond that, he intends to move carefully.
McClure, 55, seems to relish the prospect of bringing his conservative views to bear on the energy and public lands policies he has doggedly attacked during his eight-year Senate career.
Environmental laws will have to be revised in light of overriding need to develop the nation's energy resources, he said.
"There won't be any wholesale demolishing of laws that deal with the protection of the environment," he said. "It's a matter of changes in balance." Environmentalists have had their way pretty much in the last few years. They're not going to have it as totally as they have had. The pendulum is swinging."
He recommended former Wyoming senator Clifford P. Hansen to be Reagan's new secretary of the interior, an endorssement Reagan received "very politely," he said.
Like McClure, the 67-year-old Hansen represents a mineral-rich state where developers have been chafing under what they see as unreasonable environmental and land use restrictions on energy growth. Others rumored to be in line for the Interior post include Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr. (R-N.M.), House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) and Richard Richards, a Utah attorney and state GOP chairman who coordinated the western states in Reagan's campaign.
McClure wasn't talking about his preference to head DOE, where the leading candidates are reported to include C. John Miller, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, who has expressed interest in the post, and Rep. Dave Stockman (R-Mich.), who says he does not want the assignment.
Regan's main concern, McClure said, was to guarantee that both chiefs would be "policymakers, not just administrators of policies decided by the domestic council or the White House staff."
Instead, McClure talked of a new balance for the energy-environment books.
"There's something wrong with a process that won't permit us to go ahead with energy development," he said.
The new balance, he said, will involve formal definition of "environment" to include jobs, education, street safety and housing as well as natural factors.
"The environment for a ghetto black is pretty bad and a large part of it is that he doesn't have a job; he has no education, no skills, no hope," McClure said. "People being able to walk in the park safely is every bit as important as the pigeons and the trees."
In that connection, he favors transfer of many Environmental Protection Agency enforcement powers to the state and local level, leaving EPA the right to rule in regional disputes. "A community should be able to decide its own [power plant] stack emissions," he said. "If it wants dirty air as a tradeoff for jobs, it should be able to go ahead."
But if those emissions are proved to contribute to acid rain downwind, he said, then it would become a regional issue where EPA could step in.
The Clean Air Act and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, McClure said, will have to be reviewed in light of the incoming government's view that national energy self-sufficiency will have "the highest priority we can give it, right next to national defense." He said it is clear the Clean Air Act has restrained coal development and has been applied with "excessive" zeal, while the Office of Surface Mining is "a cumbersome monster" that cannot seem to make decisions.
Environmental laws have been used to stall development and not solely to guarantee consideration of environmental needs, McClure went on.
The near-term energy future will be coal and conventional nuclear power, he said, "and that's not fully accepted by the public." More nuclear plants need to start building soon and that will require a review of licensing and regulatory procedure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he said.
McClure, a longtime booster of the breeder reactor program at Clinch River, Tenn., said again that a breeder program is needed but added he is not yet at the point of deciding whether newer technology might work better. He endorsed continuing research into solar and other alternative energy sources with some scrutiny of the programs that fund research projects in various states.
"Some of those [projects] are the worst porkbarrel operations we've ever gotten into," he said.
Although he comes from a state involved in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion that seeks to bring western federally owned lands under state control, McClure predicted "probably not a great push" for any land transfer program in the new Congress. "First we have to see how well we can redirect the agencies," he said, "and if we can't then the Sagebrush Rebellion will continue."