Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel is leaving Washington convinced that leaders of environmental organizations are much too partisan and out of touch with their members.
Hodel also said in a farewell interview that he believes the global warming called the "greenhouse effect" has been overblown, and the cost of cleaning up the nation's nuclear weapons plants has been overstated.Hodel said he was "delighted and astounded" that the losing Democratic campaign of Michael Dukakis argued, in Hodel's words, that "you don't have to choose between an improving environment and an adequate energy and minerals supply; you can do both" - his own position.
The environmentalists who attacked President Reagan's first interior secretary, James Watt, whom Hodel served as deputy, were "the anti-can-do-both" people, Hodel said.
Hodel often has been called a smoother version of Watt, following the same policies but without the rancor. Asked if he were a "Watt policy clone," he replied, "I hope so, because we worked for the same man," Ronald Reagan.
Watt's critics "were the people who said we had to choose between improving our environment and the lifestyle of the American people. They were the ones who had foisted the idea off on the Carter administration that we were going to have to live with less, that there was a malaise in the country, that the United States' glory days were behind us."
Hodel said many leaders of environmental organizations "made a horrible mistake" when they endorsed Carter for re-election in a White House Rose Garden ceremony in 1980.
"I think if their membership understood how blatantly partisan the paid leadership was, the membership would demand that something be done," Hodel said.
Hodel's complaint was scoffed at by two environmental organizations.
"When I joined the Wilderness Society in January 1981, the same month the Reagan administration took office, we had 40,000 members. We now have 240,000," said former Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., the society's counselor.
Dave Baker, political director of Friends of the Earth, said, "Our membership votes with their dollars. I think our membership does believe you can do both (enhance the economy and protect the environment), but I don't think Don Hodel and the administration have done much to promote that."