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Smooth Sailing Seen for Senate Approval of Hodel Move With PM-Reagan Reorganization Bjt

January 11, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate leaders expect Energy Secretary Donald P. Hodel to win easy confirmation in his move to the Interior Department to succeed outgoing Secretary William Clark.

Lawmakers doubt, however, that the apparent smooth sailing for Hodel signals new interest on Capitol Hill in helping President Reagan to fulfill his 1980 campaign pledge to abolish the Energy Department as a Cabinet agency.

Reagan’s choice of Hodel and the tapping of White House political operative John S. Herrington to head the Energy Department were announced Thursday by White House spokesman Larry Speakes.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., an early Hodel mentor, was described as ″very curious″ about what administration sources called a plan to merge the Energy and Interior Departments.

″The senator believes there are far more urgent matters on the congressional agenda,″ Hatfield spokesman Rick Rolfe said.

Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Interior Committee, said the ″sign on the door″ of the agency was unimportant as long as ″the people are doing the job.″ He expressed fear that Congress could bog down over the status of the Energy Department when it should be addressing crucial budget problems.

″What really troubles me is that the last thing we need right now is to waste time deciding again whether we need a Department of Energy,″ Udall said. ″The Energy Department was just beginning to deal with some of the critical issues facing our nation.″

Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had no immediate comment.

McClure and the Senate’s ranking Democrat on Energy issues, Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, refused in 1982 to hold hearings on Reagan’s aborted attempt to merge Energy into the Commerce Department.

Johnston, however, indicated he is willing to look at the issue anew if the Energy Department’s annual $7.4 billion nuclear weapons program remains under Hodel’s jurisdiction.

While key Republicans - Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, for one - saw no roadblocks to Hodel’s confirmation, some Democrats expressed doubts about his move to Interior.

″The nomination of Secretary Hodel, fairly or unfairly, will be viewed by environmentalists as threatening a return to the days of James Watt.″ Udall said.

Hodel was the No.2 official at the Interior Department for two years and his name is linked to controversial Watt policies involving mineral rights on public land and offshore oil leases.

Meanwhile, environmental activists were uncertain over the move.

Sierra Club spokeswoman Adrienne Weissman said the group has yet to decide whether to support confirmation but still views Hodel ″as being a Watt cheerleader when he was at Interior.″

Jay D. Hair, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, called Hodel’s tenure at Energy ″a marked improvement over his performance as undersecretary of the Interior.″

Energy industry officials generally expressed delight at the idea. Some, however, expressed fear that Herrington, a lawyer with no energy experience, represents a dismissal of energy as major policy concern in the wake of falling oil prices and a current excess of electric generating capacity.

″The Energy Department was created in a crisis environment and that crisis is certainly not evident now,″ Paul Turner, vice president of the nuclear industry’s Atomic Industrial Forum, said.

The first response of several officials from congressional, industry and interest groups offices, when asked about Herrington’s nomination, was: ″Who?″

Ed Rothschild of the liberal Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition, said his group often had disagreed with Hodel over consumer issues but that the secretary was ″qualified with energy experience and administrative capability.″

″Now we’re going to have someone head the department who doesn’t know anything about energy,″ he said.