Despite the Reagan administration's commitment to accelerate development of American natural resourses, outgoing Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus does not think his Republican successors will be able tp push coal or mineral mining and oil drilling much more than he did.
Federal law and court orders have far more to do with the pace of such development than the wishes of the administration, he believes, and if Interior has seemed slow to write regulations or issue licenses, it is because Congress has set the timetable.
The Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, for example, which President-elect Ronald Reagan has targeted for reform, is being fleshed out on a court-ordered schedule with detailed rules for strip mining, Andrus said in an interview, and complaints of delay show ignorance.
"It's good legislation, needed legislation. Both sides tie things down tight in the law itself . . . it would be a mistake now that it's come this far to change it right at the point of inplementation."
Besides, he added, the major increases in coal production have occurred where reclamation of the mined land is at it best. "You have a small group of people who have no reverence or concern for natural resources and the aftermath of a strip mine operation, but thank God it's a small group," Andrus said.Major mining corporations recognize that past practices have to change, and the incoming administration has already modified its rhetoric somewhat, he noted.
"I just don't believe the wrecking crew is in the majority in either party," Andrus concluded.
"We've gone as fast as we could and still maintain the responsible attitude this administration is known for," he said. "It's been a two-track area of accomplishment."
At 49, Andrus is tired of the Washington grind and of his pressure-cooker job, which he promised in 1976 would keep him here no more than four years. His main headache, he said, has been career bureaucrats at the Office of Management and Budget "who think that as guardians of the pure they are also policy and decisionmakers."
Instead of merely cutting a budget proposal for, say, Indian education, Andrus said, "they try to tell you which school to repair and which to shut." The problem did not originate with Carter but goes back to the Nixon administration and will plague Reagan as well, Andrus predicted. "The same people are still there."
He said he had no problems with access to or support from the president and "disagreed in substance" on only one major issue, which he would not name. But he has said previously that Carter's "hit list" of 18 water development projects hurt him badly in western states and was politically inept.
"I have a better record of agreeing with Carter than I do with my wife, and we've been married 31 years," Andrus said.
Surveying the broad responsibilities of his job, Andrus reflected that the environmental movement seems now to be at a peak of effectiveness. "We have some zealots out there with fancy stationery and loud voices but they don't represent many people," he said. "There's no compromise in them." Some of those groups were involved in negotiations that brought the Alaska lands bill to the brink of defeat, he said.
On the whole, however, mainstream environmental advocates have been more successful in the past four years than at any time in history, he said, and should expect to see their influence "diluted" in the next four. A period of environmental consolidation is coming and is also much needed so the country can get comfortable with environmental considerations that the law has made routine, he added.
Andrus said he would advise his successor only to remember that every decision really deals with the nation's real source of wealth, its natural resources. "I used to kid Blumenthal," he said, referring to former treasury secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, "that he was just a bookkeeper and I wore both secretary's hats."
It is safe to assume that Andrus, a former governor of Idaho, will "keep a hand in" politics back home, he said, but he has imposed six-month political silence on himself. "I'm going to give these people a chance to do it right and I hope they succeed," he said. "I won't try to lambast them until I have something to cry about."