Washington The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday cautioned White House budget cutters against interfering in decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Opening a hearing on the confirmation of Lee M. Thomas to be EPA administrator, Sen. Robert Stafford, R-Vt., said he would help Thomas develop the necessary political clout to fight the Office of Management and Budget if it should turn out that Thomas does not have enough.

“The administrator and only the administrator is to decide how clean the air must be to protect the public and how it should be cleansed,” Stafford said.

Stafford noted that Thomas, a career bureaucrat, ‘‘does lack the personal power base” which his five predecessors brought to the job.


“Speaking only for myself, if Lee Thomas does not have the political stature now, it is his job indeed; it is his legal obligation to develop it.

“I will also say that in developing that stature he will have the support of this senator’” Stafford said.

Thomas has attracted no opposition to his confirmation and two major environmental groups, the National Wild Life Federation and the National Audubon Society, submitted testimony supporting him.

But a third major environmental group, the Sierra Club, said in a statement to the committee by lobbyist Blake Early ‘the committee is considering the wrong man for EPA administrator … David Stockman (head of OMB), not Lee Thomas, deserves to be interviewed by the committee, and, ultimately, to be held responsible for the implementation of congressionally mandated programs.”

Stockman said Early, “has bludgeoned the EPA.”

Thomas has been acting administrator for the past month.

Prehearing contacts between the committee and the agency indicated that topics on the minds of the senators included the size of the ‘‘superfund’’ waste dump cleanup program; the pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 2,000 people; what if anything to do about acid rain; EPA’s referral last week of asbestos questions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission; and the planned elimination of municipal sewage grants by 1990.

 EPA has estimated that “superfund’’ will require about $11 billion to clean up about 18,000 dumps. According to budget projections released Monday, EPA expects to seek an average of $1.1 billion a year for the next five years, admittedly not enough to do the entire job in that period.

The agency is expected to send specific “‘superfund”? Recommendations to Congress by the end of the month.

Thomas succeeded Ruckelshaus after serving as assistant administrator in charge of solid waste and emergency response. In that job, he won high marks for his supervision of ‘“‘superfund.”


Article extracted from this publication >> February 15, 1985