Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne M. Gorsuch has been stung into outrage and protest by 1983 budget figures from the Office of Management and Budget that would hit EPA with a 36 percent funding cut from fiscal 1982, EPA sources said yesterday.
After taking two months of criticism from Capitol Hill, environmental groups and many state and local officials for her proposed cut which was half that size, Gorsuch reportedly regards OMB's plan as a disastrous political blunder.
Even so, many in the environmental community speculated that the leaked cuts are a top-level White House effort to convert Gorsuch's image from that of the unpopular villain sent to gut EPA into the heroine holding the environmental fort against OMB Director David A. Stockman.
According to this theory, Stockman's credibility is already so low from his candid critique of administration economic policies that it won't go much lower if he also becomes the new environmental bad guy. "The choice now is between her horrible figures and Stockman's cataclysmic ones," said one EPA insider, "but horrible is starting to look pretty good."
If there is a plot, however, it is a secret from top aides to Gorsuch and Stockman, who said a loud argument between the two Thursday would have to have been very good acting.
OMB's cuts would lower EPA's operating budget from about $1.1 billion in fiscal '82 to $700 million in fiscal '83, chopping the hazardous waste control program 65 percent from 1981 levels, the research program 32 percent, pesticide regulation 42 percent and research 38 percent. Contracting funds would drop by 62 percent and the separately administered sewer construction grants would lose $1.4 billion.
Gorsuch had willingly taken the heat for her fiscal '83 budget proposal of $995 million because she believed it would not hurt EPA's bedrock functions. The impact Stockman's numbers would produce would be unbearable, she reportedly told aides.
In a heated letter to Stockman Thursday, Gorsuch argued that her 18 percent proposed reduction was unprecedented but was defensible as more efficient and still environmentally sound.
The new figures, which OMB sources said came directly from Stockman, cannot be defended or supported by any analysis, she wrote.
Gorsuch has taken pride in launching the Superfund program to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps, but the cuts in the hazardous waste control program are the largest in the budget.
Public commitment to environmental pollution control is very strong, Gorsuch warned, and such cuts would boomerang on President Reagan in an election year. She said she would go to Reagan to fight her case if necessary.
The decision to leak the letter and other documents on OMB's proposal may backfire on Gorsuch, who until now has been considered the complete team player at the White House. In some trouble earlier this year because of her stiff personal style and abrupt, distant manner with prominent Reagan industrial and political supporters, Gorsuch won firm White House backing when the press and political attacks on her budget began.