The new chairman of the Senate subcommittee that writes the nation's most important antipollution laws is in heavy political debt to commercial interests that rank among the leading foes of those laws.
Sen. Mike Gravel (D) of Alaska has collected nearly one-half of the contributions for his re-election campaign this year from interests that lobby Congress for greater exploitation, extraction, and development of resources rather than protection of the natural environment.
A total of $120,600 of his $272,330 campaign chest has come from contributors affiliated with industries such as petroleum, real estate, construction, shipping, highway transportation, mining, and commercial fishing.
So reveals an examination by this newspaper of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Senator Gravel was chosen earlier this month to take over the environmental pollution subcommittee chaired since its creation in 1964 by Edmund Muskie (D) of Maine, who has been appointed by President Carter as Secretary of State.
Under the leadership of Senator Muskie, who earned a reputation as Capitol Hill's most knowledgeable and effective environmental champion, the subcommittee crafted many of the nation's landmark antipollution laws. Some of them -- notably the 1977 clean- air and clean-water laws, which face reauthorization next year -- now are coming under serious challenge from some of the same interests aiding the panel's new chairman.
The largest group of Gravel contributors generally opposed to tough federal environmental controls are petroleum interests. The industry's corporate fund-raising "political action committees" and individual oil men have given him
Such contributions, the records show, have been, at least in part, actively solicited. The Gravel campaign paid $10,000 earlier this year to a Washington firm to seek donations from corporate committees in various fields.
Fund-raising events, meanwhile, have elicited gifts from individuals. A fund-raising party in January at the Petroleum Club in Denver netted $3,425, for example, while another in February in El Dorado, Ark., brought in $10,000, the lion's share of it from eight oil executives.
The board chairman and chief executive officer of Standard Oil of Ohio, Alton W. Whitehouse Jr., picked up the $188 tab for a campaign breakfast for Senator Gravel in September at the Union Club in Cleveland. SOHIO is a major producer of Alaskan oil.
In addition to the petroleum industry, real estate and construction interests have contributed $22,550. The money comes from Realtors, land developers, contractors, and construction trades unions.
Shipping interests, including owners and crewmen of oil tankers and other vessels, have donated $14,100. Others working to promote highway transportation have given $13,800. They include trucking officials, truck- driver unions, and the billboard industry.