At a recent Cabinet meeting, President Carter declared that he wanted his administration to speak with one voice on stopping work at the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project in Tennessee. With mounting opposition in Congress by a well-oiled, pro-Clinch River lobby, Carter emphasized his strong desire to win this struggle. Why did Carter have to say the obvious? Some of his energy aides believe such pointed words were directed at James R. Schlesinger, chief administration energy spokesman whose Congressional testimony against the plutonium breeder was considered “ambiguous” and “unenthusiastic” by some of his associates.
When Carter selected Schlesinger last fall to run his energy program, the suggested incompatibility of views between the two men was quickly denied by both. Schlesinger promptly declared his fealty to conservation and solar energy, and to atomic energy only as “a last resort.”
Only a few months later, he was pushing on Capitol Hill an energy package whose conservation and solar components are trivial and whose nuclear reliance amounts to nearly 400 plants by the year 2000.
Despite Carter’s repeated support for formal mechanisms to assure citizen participation in the government’s regulatory proceedings —particularly asserted in his April 6th consumer message — Schlesinger avoided putting such provisions into the proposed Department of Energy bill sent to Congress.
Even more revealing of his authoritarian approach to government decision-making was his refusal to support those senators and representatives who wanted to include citizen access and participation rights, including financial support for needy groups.
In fact, his handling of this issue served to actively undermine support in Congress. When the Department of Energy is signed into law soon, there will be no guarantee for this kind of public involvement.
This overall performance by Schlesinger has emboldened Ford administration holdover Robert W. Fri, acting head of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), to quietly extend support to members of Congress who are championing the plutonium breeder.
ERDA still is dominated by old Atomic Energy Commission hardliners, even though its mission of promoting solar and conservation is supposed to be receiving ever higher priority.
While ERDA sends technical material and arguments in favor of the breeder to Capitol Hill, detailed letters opposing the breeder reactor by the founder of health physics, Dr. Karl Morgan of Georgia Tech’s School of Nuclear Engineering, were not included.
Dr. Morgan who spent over 30 years at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as head of its Department of Radiation Safety, is treated by Schlesinger and Fri with cool indifference.
Further disappointments are in store for anyone who believed in a reasonable construction of the “nuclear power as a last resort” phrase.
Schlesinger is involved in selection of appointments to three openings on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Kent Hanson, an MIT pro-nuclear teacher and industry consultant, is the first Carter appointment. Others mentioned for the remaining two slots include more nuclear sympathizers than critics.
Schlesinger’s tough talk against the energy industry among his aides is carefully quarantined. Whatever psychological effect pithy phrases taking the auto or utility or oil industry apart may have to uplift staff morale, his public decisions are rarely a fraction as upsetting to these large corporations.
While dissent with the Executive branch is healthy, presidents need to have people speaking directly for them who reflect their beliefs and intensity and commitment.
While it still is too early to say that Schlesinger is bending Carter on many energy issues through subtle defiance rather than persuasion, it certainly looks that way as far as some parts of the energy program are concerned.