Babbitt's `Can Do' Style

HAROLD ICKES, secretary of the interior for Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, was a crusty character noted for getting things done without much concern about whose toes or ego he might step on.

Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona, is President Clinton's interior secretary. He's no Harold Ickes in terms of temperament, but Mr. Babbitt is forthright. When he believes in something he doesn't equivocate.

As governor he became the principal advocate for the Central Arizona Project - moving Colorado River water some 200 miles from west to east to guarantee future growth in Phoenix and other urban areas and irrigation for fertile but arid agricultural areas.

That dream is still in the making. But, as interior secretary, Mr. Babbitt has exhibited the same kind of drive with which he approached his goals in Arizona.

One of his first moves was to activate a project to return the badly abused Florida Everglades region to something more like its natural condition - a daunting task which he is unlikely to see complete in his tenure even if he serves for two terms.

Then Mr. Clinton and Babbitt turned to the far West and let cattle ranchers and mining interests know that they should expect to pay more for the right to explore for and mine minerals and to graze cattle on federal land, a vast area containing some 260 million acres.

Cattle interests and the politicians who represent them turned quickly on the grazing-rights price hike and seemed to have won a reprieve. But now Babbitt, with the backing of Mr. Clinton, has announced plans to more than double grazing fees and put new water-use rules into effect.

Farther north and west, in the land of huge, ancient trees and tiny spotted owls, lumbering interests had already been informed of sharp cutbacks in logging.

The Clinton-Babbitt initiatives are sure to be tested, again and again. But the interior secretary has wholehearted support from environmental organizations. If, or when, the secretary's policies take effect, most Americans will likely laud his aggressiveness.

What Babbitt has done - with the support of the president and vice president - is to take the high ground with his environmental and natural resource agenda and rally Americans to support policies he and the president see as paramount.

Mr. Ickes would have approved.

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