WHATEVER the reason for the decision by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Ruckelshaus to return to private life, it is essential that the agency continue the progress made during the past 18 months.
Protecting the nation's environment is a priority that should transcend political and ideological battle lines, although individuals and groups will differ as to how far that protection should be extended. Indeed, one result of the election of a conservative Republican administration back in 1980 has been a rethinking of environmentalism in general. Specifically, the increasing challenge for government officials has been to reconcile demands for protecting the nation's water, air, and natural resources with public demands for promoting national economic growth and development. That rethinking of the role of environmentalism as part of a larger national public policy will likely continue.
Mr. Ruckelshaus was the perfect choice to restore credibility to the EPA, following the resignation of Ann Gorsuch Burford amid charges of mismanagement and hostility to environmental concerns. Under Ruckelshaus the agency has called for stepped up research into acid rain, proposed tougher restrictions on leaded gasoline, and placed tough controls on the pesticide EDB.
Reports out of Washington suggest the agency may now face White House-inspired budget cuts. The budget, of course, is important. Equally, if not more, important is that the agency retain a sense of absolute integrity and long-range commitment to its public trust - even while sorting out its role. The Senate, now under new direction of its own, can be expected to take special scrutiny of the agency during the months ahead, to ensure that there is no repetition of the turmoil that clouded the EPA.