A REPORT prepared by 10 environmental groups, "Indictment: The Case Against the Reagan Environmental Record," levels a serious charge against the administration's policies on the environment and resource conservation. The president and his chief appointees--Interior Secretary James Watt, EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, Assistant Agriculture Secretary John Crowell--have insisted that they want only to restore "balance" between conservation goals and economic development, between environmental protection and deregulation of business.
The environmentalists contend that the balance that has been achieved amounts to a "wholesale giveaway" of the nation's natural heritage and adoption of policies that protect polluters at the expense of public health. They buttress their case with a listing of more than 200 specific decisions, actions and policies. Some of these may be, as an administration spokesman charged, exaggerations or half-truths. Some--for example, decisions to streamline lengthy decision-making processes--may be neither unwise nor unwarranted.
Balance, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But the bulk of the decisions recorded in this document do reflect a policy that has far overshot balanced and prudent tradeoffs between public and private interests. Many have been widely reported: Mr. Watt's efforts to open wilderness areas to mining and other development; Miss Gorsuch's several moves to loosen or delay hazardous waste dumping rules, including allowing disposal of liquid wastes that can create a mess like Love Canal; proposing to lift or eliminate lead pollution standards; the effort to eliminate a role for states in decisions on oil leasing off their coasts. These and other decisions have been reversed or stalemated by public, congressional or judicial disapproval.
Other less well-known actions deserve wider attention. Wildlife clearly has a low priority. Listing of endangered species has stopped (except for one microscopic species that lives entirely within the boundaries of the National Zoo), though dozens have fulfilled the requirements for protection. Without waiting for scientific hearings, President Reagan personally canceled a Nixon executive order banning a poison used to kill coyotes that was also indiscriminately killing wildlife that ate the poisoned bait.
In the management of public lands, the administration cannot seem to sell off public resources fast enough. The Department of Agriculture proposes tripling next year's sale of timber from the National Forests, despite a three-year backlog of timber that has been sold but not yet cut. Similar proposals to accelerate leasing of coal, oil shale and offshore lands far exceed industry's need for, or ability to explore and develop, these resources.
All in all, the environmentalists' report makes a compelling case against the fairness and the wisdom of Mr. Reagan's policies in this area.