The head of the Environmental Protection Agency transition team has found that at least some of the suggestions from conservative groups for clipping the agency's wings probably won't work.
Norman C. (Ike) Livermore said in an interview before leaving town that during his six weeks of study, he had come to think of EPA as "a big tree -- you can't really chop it down, but you can prune it back some." The eight-member transition team handed in its final report Dec. 18 and dispersed for the holidays, apparently becoming the first such agency group to finish its pre-inaugural business, Livermore said.
While he is convinced that the over regulation of business is a major problem, Livermore said he doubted the practicality of a one-year freeze on new regulations, as proposed by the incoming chief of the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Dave Stockman (R-Mich.).
The new EPA administrator is required by law to issue nearly 100 sets of regulations within the next six months, Livermore said, and those regulations now are "in all degrees of oozing through the red-tape labyrinth." To stop cold, he said, "would be enormously complex." He added that although EPA has been under constant fire from industries who feel hamstrung by its regulations, "so much of that criticism of EPA is really a criticism of the statues."
Outgoing EPA Administrator Douglas Costle recently made much the same point, predicting that his successor would have little freedom of choice in issuing regulations that would inevitably come under heavy fire.
Livermore also said that regional environmental problems may preclude the transfer of some EPA powers to state governments as assorted conservative groups have recommended. As an example, he cited acid rain, which often falls hundreds of miles downwind from the coal-burning industries that are thought to cause it.
"Air pollution controls can't very well be delegated to individual states in that regard," he said.
Livermore, 69, was President-elect Ronald Reagan's secretary of natural resources in California for eight years and has continued work in environmental matters since then, serving as a director of the Audubon Society and winning honors from the Sierra Club and other groups. He defended Reagan's environmental record as governor, saying conservationists' criticism of that record had made him "mad as hell. It just wasn't true."
Some of those critics, he said, were "super purists . . . kamikaze environmentalists," the sort who "described a good forest as one with no people in it," or who gave all lumber companies a blanket condemnation. "That's just a crazy statement," Livermore said. "They tend to ignore economics."
It is such purists who have been complaining about Reagan's choice of Colorado attorney James G. Watt for secretary of the interior, Livermore continued. He said Watt was well-regarded when he served as a deputy assistant secretary of the interior and is "pleasant and knowledgeable.
"I think they'll be pleasantly surprised with Gov. Reagan and also with Watt," he predicted.
Livermore's report to Reagan is "telephone-book thick," he said, and includes "more than a little hope that the regulatory process might be simplified, expedited and clarified." He pointed to a three-inch stack of proposed regulations on construction of toxic waste disposal facilities, expected to be issued soon, and called them "incredibly complicated. It's hard to convince me that's necessary."