Energy Secretary James Edwards sat in his sister's kitchen in South Carolina not long ago and opined to a local reporter that he would like to "get rid of these strident voices" that slow energy development, particularly because "subversive elements are using these people." d

The interview ran in the Orangeburg Times and Democrat on June 15. Yesterday Edwards seemed surprised that anyone would be interested.

"He says, 'I don't know, I might have said that,'" reported Connie Stuart, Edwards' press secretary. "But it was a general comment. He doesn't have any specifics. I don't think too much ought to be read into remarks in a relaxed situation in his sister's home."

Reporter Joyce W. Milkie of the Times and Democrat said she talked with Edwards and a friend of the family at the house where his invalid mother also resides, and wrote a two-part article.

Milkie said her transcript of the taped interview showed she had engaged Edwards in a discussion of the risks and benefits of nuclear power."There are a lot of people who would like to do to us economically what no military force in the world could do: bring us to our knees," Edwards said. "I'm not saying let's forget about the environment. I love this country and I want to leave it clean for my children, but what we've been doing is we've had a pantry full of food and us holding the key."

Noting that 250 people had died in a Mexican gas explosion, Edwards said: "If 250 people got killed in a nuclear accident, the whole world would cave in on us because a lot of people in this country sincerely feel that nuclear energy is not good." But, he added, more energy is needed to create jobs.

"Energy is tied so closely to our economic life's blood in this country that it is absolutely essential to get rid of these strident voices, somehow, get rid of the roadblocks. Subversive elements are using these people," Edwards said.

Milkie said she did not ask Edwards to elaborate. But he went on then to note that the Soviets are "building these [nuclear] installations as fast as they can."

Later on, she said, Edwards noted that other countries involved in nuclear power "don't have the strident voices we have coming from a small minority."

A June 21 editorial in The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., said the Edwards interview "reminds us of the way the late Sen. Joe McCarthy went about his campaign against alleged communists infiltrating the U.S. government." It demanded that Edwards back up his charges and noted that since they came from a Cabinet member, the statements "must be taken seriously and considered to reflect the thinking of the administration."

Rafe Pomerance, president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, agreed. "It's an incredible statement for a Cabinet member to make," he said. "Maybe Edwards doesn't know there's a Bill of Rights."

"Jim Edwards is not Joe McCarthy," Stuart responded. "This is not an attempt to cite out specific kinds of groups that must be dealt with in any way other than in a public forum."

The interview dealt with a wide range of energy matters and Edwards' view of his job. "We knew a lot more than we were given credit for when we first took office," he said."The president had a good reason for choosing me." Milkie said Edwards, a former South Carolina governor, told her that being a Cabinet member "isn't as much fun as being governor" but did not discuss whether he planned to leave the administration to run for another gubernatorial term next year.