In a blow to his cherished reputation as a champion of the environment, Vice President Gore has lost the endorsement of the Friends of the Earth's political arm to his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

The Friends of the Earth political action committee will announce its endorsement of Bradley at a news conference today, signaling what it calls "both disillusionment with Gore's environmental performance over the past seven years and recognition of Bradley's superior environmental credentials."

Kiki Moore, press secretary to the Gore campaign, did not comment directly on the news, but said, "Al Gore has long believed in and worked for a balanced approach to making a clean and healthy environment a reality for America's working families."

Eric Hauser, Bradley's spokesman, said, "We're very happy to get this support, because it reflects Bill Bradley's ability to get big things accomplished."

Friends of the Earth is a 30-year-old organization with a membership of 20,000--one of the smaller groups in that sector. Regarded as being somewhat left of center on the spectrum of environmental organizations, it has concentrated more on international issues than the larger environmental groups.

Its statement says that during their years on Capitol Hill, Bradley had a higher rating than Gore from the League of Conservation Voters--85 percent, compared with Gore's 66 percent. But it faults Gore even more for being "part of an administration which has done significant international environmental damage."

The group says Gore and the administration have done "poorly on his signature issue, protection of the ozone layer," by accepting legislation last year that "weakened the phaseout date for the dangerous chemical methyl bromide." The law delayed that date from 2001 to 2005. The organization also says that in negotiations the past two years on the updating of the Montreal agreement of 1987, the administration "opposed the stronger ozone protection measures sought by European nations."

Ironically, Gore has been criticized by many Republicans and business groups for his role in negotiating the Kyoto agreement on global warming, and the administration has delayed in submitting it for a Senate vote because of that opposition.

Brent Blackwelder, president of the Friends of the Earth's PAC, said that if the administration had pressed domestic energy conservation measures more vigorously, it could have led the effort for an even stronger agreement.

By contrast, the group said, "Bill Bradley has proven himself an effective legislator, not afraid to take on tough issues and savvy enough to create coalitions to get results."

It cites Bradley's work as Senate sponsor of a 1992 law that overhauled water policy in California and other western states. It also noted that Bradley filibustered to stop measures that would have opened a wilderness area in Utah and the Alaska Arctic Wildlife Refuge to mining and energy companies and had opposed new timber operations in protected areas of the Pacific Northwest. The major tax bill Bradley helped push through the Senate in 1986 "reduced subsidies for timber cutting."

A lobbyist for another--and politically neutral--environmental group expressed surprise yesterday at the Friends of the Earth statement, saying that the voting records of the two Democrats were "almost identical" but that Gore was "one of a handful of go-to guys" always available to help on issues of concern to his organization, while Bradley engaged more selectively.

Nonetheless, the Friends of the Earth statement says, "Examination of the track records of both Gore and Bradley leads us to the conclusion that Bradley's record is superior and one of achievement more than rhetoric." The organization concludes: "In addition, there are serious disappointments in Gore's performance as the environmental point-man for this administration."

CAPTION: Former senator Bill Bradley has a better environmental record than Vice President Gore, Friends of the Earth said.