Environmental groups say these times aren't hard, just challenging
Boston — A loose-knit coalition of 10 leading US environmental groups is taking its case against Reagan administration policies to regional meetings around the country, reminding local workers that ''the foxes are all over the chicken coop and it's our duty to fight back.''
Those were the words of National Audubon Society vice-president Brock Evans to one such conference last week in New Hampshire. The meeting brought together national leaders with officials of environmental groups in the six New England states. It was one of a series of gatherings aiming to coordinate the efforts of national and grass-roots groups. Earlier meetings were held in Portland, Ore., and in Colorado, and the next conference is scheduled for New York City in November.
Mr. Evans told the gathering that his recent travels across the country have convinced him that, despite an unfriendly administration in Washington, there is increasing ''intensity'' and ''depth'' of commitment among environmentalists. The movement is not without influence in Washington, he said, pointing out that one national business magazine ranked the environmental lobby as the equal of the National Rifle Association, an extremely effective lobbyist.
A key result of the conference, says coordinator Sharon Francis, was that ''we realized that these really aren't hard times (for environmental groups), they're challenging times - full of opportunity.'' She says speakers pointed out that environmental political action committees have sprung up in 30 states with the aim of supporting national and local candidates this fall. The movement, while short on clout within the administration, has ''substantial people-clout. It has shoe leather'' to spend, she says.
The conference was timed to coincide with the release of a study by Massachusetts environmentalists that aimed to show the effects of Reagan administration budget and management decisions on four major areas of the state's environment: air quality, water quality, harzardous wastes, and parks and recreation. The study contends that:
* If administration proposals to weaken the Clean Air Act are adopted, the 22 carbon monoxide ''hot spots'' in the state, instead of being reduced to four by 1987, will remain and new ones will be created.
* Massachusetts already has the most acidic rainfall of any state, and Reagan administration policies to slow action to control coal-burning plants will aggrevate the problem. In addition, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water-quality grants for pollution control and wetlands projects will be cut by 20 percent next year.
* No money from the hazardous waste superfund, a federal cleanup kitty created during the Carter administration, has been spent in the state to clean up dump sites, even though the EPA lists six in Massachusetts as having highest priority for federal funds.
* The administration has cut federal money once spent on state and local parks and redirected other money to national parks, resulting in some 40 Massachusetts projects being reassessed or cancelled.
In Boston, regional EPA spokesman Paul Keough takes issue with some of the conclusions of the report. He says, for example, that superfund money already has been spent to study hazardous waste sites. ''I see the program moving,'' he says. ''We have been working diligently at cleaning up these sites. The State of Massachusetts and EPA have a pretty good record'' on hazardous waste clean up, he maintains.
Mr. Keough adds environmental groups are well-meaning but sometimes fail to understand that spending money on a problem as fast as possible ''isn't a panacea.''
He concedes that ''there are areas the administration deserves to be criticized.'' But in others areas, he says, ''its not as bad as it's being painted.''
The traveling environmental leaders, including the presidents of several national groups, were on friendly ground in New England. The area is home to a wide variety of active environmental and conservation groups. The New England congressional delegation has shown strong bipartisan support of environmental issues. Most recently, it acted last month when Sens. Robert T. Stafford (R) of Vermont and George J. Mitchell (D) of Maine successfuly pushed an acid rain reduction program through a Senate committee. It was the first time a control plan - it calls for an eight million ton reduction in sulfer-dioxide emissions over 10 years - had progressed so far.
The New England conference, titled ''New Strategies for Hard Times: Rethinking the Environmental Movement,'' was sponsored by a broad spectrum of environmental groups: the Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the Izaac Walton League, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association, the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Policy Center, the Wilderness Society, the National Resources Defense Council, and the National Audubon Society.