PRESIDENT-ELECT Clinton's choice of Sen. Albert Gore as his running mate, and the subsequent Clinton-Gore victory, was a generational change. This may become most apparent in the Clinton administration's environmental policy.
The election victory shared by two youthful Southerners assures steadfast commitment to solving environmental problems. Tennessean Gore's expertise on global environmental concerns will be a major factor.
Mr. Clinton already has made it clear that Mr. Gore will be a strong and very visible vice president - not just a presider over the Senate with a few innocuous White House assignments. Gore, it appears, will be a vice-president "with portfolio."
But if Clinton is to fulfill his objectives in the crucial environmental field, he is going to need strong figures in the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency (which ought to be elevated to a separate Cabinet-level department).
He must propose policies that will win the support of strong majorities in the House and Senate - which means initiatives acceptable to many Republicans as well as loyal Democrats.
There is, of course, an immediate precedent for use of the vice president in making environmental policy: Dan Quayle championed environmental and energy policies in the Bush administration that are diametrically opposite to those sought by Clinton and Gore.Those policies were typically contrary to the interests of environmental protection. Fortunately, President Bush has refrained from signing an order, strongly urged by Mr. Quayle, which would have set back policy regarding wetlands conservation.
Prosperity or lack of it, rather than politics, is likely to be the chief drawback for the environmental goals the Clinton administration is expected to pursue. Few energy and resource-saving programs come with small price tags. The prospect of reforming energy policy while striving to lift the American economy out of recession will be seen by some as a paradox.
Some of the ideas floated so far:
* Converting vehicles to fuels, such as natural gas, that pollute less than gasoline and oil.
* Increasing energy efficiency in buildings, from homes to skyscrapers.
* Making real progress toward widespread use of renewable resources, such as solar, wind, and water power.
* Shifting research priorities to seek new technologies leading to pollution reduction.
* Providing more incentives, if possible, for private industries to make a greater effort to pollute less.
The president-elect and his counselors, including Gore, doubtless realize that economic reality will force them to carefully choose priorities.
Meantime, the Clinton administration appointments process is gaining momentum. So far most of those whom Clinton has conferred in the environmental field are well-known figures such as retiring US Sen. Timothy Wirth of Colorado and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
But the process is accelerating, and soon we will know who will be assuming the challenge of safeguarding our environment as well as our economy.