After Clark: balanced policy at Interior

THE White House faces a crucial opportunity -- and responsibility -- as it goes about selecting a new head for the the US Department of the Interior. The new secretary will replace William Clark, who plans to return to private life in early spring. Mr. Clark, a longtime associate of President Reagan, has garnered well-deserved, though mixed, praise from conservationists for the way he has gone about managing affairs at the Interior Department since filling in for James Watt, who left in a cloud of controversy 18 months ago. That is not to say that environmentalists welcome the development-oriented policies that have continued under Mr. Clark. But to his credit, Mr. Clark reopened dialogue with environmentalists. He initiated a low-key, less confrontational atmosphere at Interior.

The administration must now build on the change in tone begun under Mr. Clark. The management of the department is particularly important at a time, as now, when development and energy-use needs are more and more impinging on America's forests, rivers, mountains, and meadowlands. What is needed at the department is a fair, balanced policy that combines legitimate requirements for development with clear environmental safeguards. To reach that mix, however, it is imperative that the next secretary of the interior combine, at the least,the qualities associated with Mr. Clark by environmentalist Morris Udall: namely, fairness, honorableness, consideration, and reasonableness. ------30{et

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