Environmentalists challenge Reagan

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Ten of America's leading environmental groups, weary of sparring with Secretary of the Interior James Watt, have aimed a stinging challenge at his boss -- President Ronald Reagan.

In a 35-page bill of particulars titled ''Indictment: The Case Against the Reagan Environmental Record,'' they charge the administration ''has turned its back'' on the environmental protection goals set forth in the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, even though the public support that led to its enactment ''has not diminished but grown stronger.''

''President Reagan has broken faith with the American people on environmental protection,'' begins the introductory part of the document. It concludes: ''We think the administration's environmental policies have harmed the nation, and that the harm grows steadily worse. We believe President Reagan should be called to task.''

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A press spokesman for Secretary Watt said no one in the Interior Department had seen the statement as of midday March 31. He issued the following statement:

''The secretary of the interior will continue to do the job to which he was appointed, as will other officials of the Reagan administration. We would welcome a constructive dialogue with organizations having legitimate interest in the development and protection of resources, but we will not be influenced by a small number of special interests and their paid leadership.''

The ''indictment'' was issued to the press in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., March 31 by leaders of Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Policy Center, Environmental Action, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Solar Lobby.

The environmentalists' tract was months in the making. It reviews the history of federal action under these headings: pollution control, federal public lands and natural resources, energy leasing, water resources, energy, regulatory reform, Council on Environmental Quality, and the international environment. It accuses the Reagan administration of undermining the effectiveness of every major reform since 1960 -- as well as the public lands policies first instituted by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Typical is a section that asserts the administration's ''legislative proposals, regulatory changes, and budget actions are crippling'' the 1970 Clean Air Act, ''our flagship environmental law.'' The Environmental Protection Agency is accused of weakening or postponing air pollution requirements, failing to act on toxic air pollution and acid rain, reducing research and monitoring, and damaging ''the credibility and effectiveness of the entire regulatory program by a sudden and radical decrease in enforcement actions.''

Asked whether they planned to follow up their blistering ''indictment'' with a specific and concerted national campaign, spokesmen for some of the groups involved would only say that their organizations would try to get as many copies distributed to the public as possible.

A section titled ''What You Can Do'' says:

''If you have read this indictment and are distressed, as we are, at the environmental tragedy unfolding under the Reagan administration, we urge you to act.

''Ask to meet with your senators and congressman when they are home for the Easter or Memorial Day congressional recess. Suggest that they hold local hearings on the issues raised by the indictment.

''Talk to local government and press representatives about the local impacts of the administration's policies.

''The environmental laws were passed because the public demanded them. Public support can save them.''

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