Secretary Hodel takes flak from all sides
THE oil industry is peeved at Donald P. Hodel, interior secretary for the past six months. No, that's not strong enough -- with barely concealed glee, the secretary himself characterizes industry's emotions as ``sheer outrage.'' To support his claim, Mr. Hodel plucks from memory a passage he spied in a recent oil industry journal: ``This is an act of war.'' Hodel utters the words with calculated deliberation, as if savoring each one. ``We will never trust Hodel again.''Skip to next paragraph
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The cause of the industry's irritation is a deal Secretary Hodel made with members of the California congressional delegation earlier this month. Like many states, California want no oil drilling off its shores and had passed laws to prevent the leasing of offshore tracts to oil companies.
Faced with the probable defeat of one of the Reagan administration's highest resource management priorities -- the opening of United States coastal areas to mineral development -- Hodel forged a compromise. Open 150 offshore tracts to oil leasing, he said, and keep the 6,310 others off limits until the year 2000.
The Californians liked the idea and the issue was settled. Hodel was later villainized by an ``anonymous industry official'' in an oil trade publication.
But that doesn't mean he has been lionized by environmentalists. They say several of the 150 tracts should never have been opened for leasing; that others should have been offered in their stead.
Environmentalists feel the deal wasn't much of a sacrifice on Hodel's part -- no deal at all might have meant that all the tracts would have stayed closed forever.
Some even say that Hodel -- who, as a utility executive in Oregon, once charged that the environmental movement was full of ``communists'' -- is in cahoots with the oil industry on this one.
``[Oil companies] say they're unhappy. Come on, what else are they going to say?'' asks William Turnage, president of the Wilderness Society, an environmental group. ``We're not happy with the way this thing turned out.''
As official guardian of the American natural heritage, Hodel is in a position to make a lot of people unhappy. His task is to control a bureaucracy as sprawling and multifaceted as the public lands it oversees, and to forge a game plan by which to manage the country's natural resources.
``You take a tract of land out there somewhere and the Bureau of Reclamation wants to build a dam or irrigation project, the Geological Survey wants to study it, the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] wants to lease it for grazing, the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to put a refuge on it, the National Park Service comes along and says, `Wait a minute, it's parkland,' and about the time you get into a big argument over that, the Bureau of Indian Affairs comes along and says, `Forget it, that belongs to the Indians,' '' Hodel says, referring to six of the 10 resource management agencies under his supervision.
Such conflicting interests also put the Interior Department, and its chief, squarely in the middle of an ongoing struggle between conservationists and developers around the country.
Supporters and critics of Hodel agree that the secretary has so far managed to carry out his task with much less commotion than James G. Watt, the department's combative head during most of President Reagan's first term.