IN VOTING recently to extend the federal pesticide control act, the House sent a strong message to foes of the environmental movement. People from all parts of the political spectrum are worried about what uncontrolled use of chemicals can do to their health and to the world around them, and they are willing to put up with a certain amount of cost and regulation to reduce that threat.

In voting to reject a series of industry-backed amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (you remember FIFRA), the House also had something to say about the administration's latest modification of its views about federalism. One of the amendments would have restricted the rights of states to impose stricter pesticide controls than those set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. EPA initially opposed the change, but the White House, under pressure from the chemical manufacturers, later dropped its opposition to the new limits.

This put the administration in the peculiar position of amending its longstanding position in favor of more control by states over their own affairs. It seems that it's all right by the administration for states to set their own standards so long as those standards are more permissive than the federal government's.

The traditionally accepted federal relationship works quite the other way -- the federal government establishes a floor level of acceptable behavior for all states, but states -- subject to constitutional prohibitions against impeding interstate commerce -- may choose to set higher standards. That compromise has worked well in many areas, and the House rightfully declined to modify it in the case of pesticides where states have frequently been ahead of EPA in detecting health hazards.

The environmentalists scored two other victories. A House committee rejected weakening amendments to the Clean Air Act sought by industry, and the full House, by a 340 to 58 vote, approved a ban on oil and gas leasing in wilderness areas. The broad range of congressional support for these measures reinforces the finding of public opinion polls that health and the environment are not the private concerns of one region or socioeconomic group -- they are of general concern.