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Hodel Offends Environmentalists With Lotion-and-Hats Policy

May 30, 1987 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel has come under sharp attack from all corners for his reported hats-lotion-and-sunglasses approach to a serious and growing environmental problem.

Environmentalists and members of both parties in Congress denounced the purported plan Friday as irresponsible and absurd.

Hodel insists he was misunderstood in published reports saying he suggested wearing hats, suntan lotion and sunglasses could substitute for international controls on production of chemicals that attack the ozone layer.

Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., a sponsor of legislation calling for curbs by the United States, said such an approach was ″as absurd as the suggestion earlier in the 1980s to classify ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program.″ That short-lived notion came from the Agriculture Department.

Both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported that Hodel argued inside the Reagan administration that increased personal protection could be an alternative to an international agreement.

Hodel, in an interview Friday, acknowledged that he suggested a program of protective measures against harmful rays but said it was only a fallback position in case international agreements are not worked out.

Hodel said he believes that a program warning people how to protect themselves from skin cancer caused by greater transmission of ultraviolet light by a depleted stratospheric ozone layer might be a position to take if there is no worldwide agreement to curb ozone-destroying chemicals.

Efforts are under way in several countries to curb production of chlorofluorocarbon and related compounds that destroy ozone.

″If the United States has to go it alone, one of the things that ought to be considered is that there would be very limited reductions in worldwide CFC production, so the ozone problem would continue and we’d face the existing medical problems as well as additional problems,″ Hodel said.

In such a case, the government might well want to warn people about how to protect themselves from increasing concentrations of ultraviolet, he said.

He said he was mostly concerned that President Reagan was getting boxed in without a range of options by the position of the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department.

That position is that the United States should try to convince the rest of the world that all nations could cut CFC production by up to 95 percent. This has been the U.S. starting point in talks among 31 nations that recently tentatively agreed in principle on a 20 percent production cut as a first step.

Several environmental groups called for Hodel’s resignation, their representatives appearing at a news conference in hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Others issued scathing comments.

David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of Hodel’s explanation: ″If he wants to back out of it that way, it’s all right with me.″

Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who has supported the international talks from a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said a sunglasses policy was ″like suggesting that the dangers of nuclear war can be avoided by digging a hole and putting a door on top.″

Sen. Timothy Wirth. D-Colo., called the reported Hodel position ″extraordinarily irresponsible″ if true, analagous to ″issuing, to solve the clean air problem, respirators to everybody.″

Rep. James H. Scheuer, D-N.Y., chairman of the environment subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a tongue-in-cheek statement that Hodel’s policy could result in ″new and innovative hats, not only for humans, but plants, aquatic life and animals.″ He said it could spawn an industry of entrepreneurs who would ″apply sunscreen to animals.″

EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas, according to spokesman Chris Rice, ″does not think the use of sunglasses and hats is a serious option.″

An administration official who also declined to be identified said most officials believe Hodel’s idea has no chance of being adopted.