Sometimes it seems that ideas burst forth at the White House with all the forethought of a summer lightning bug bungling through an open window. It happened last week, as follows: "Gee, if the President's going to send Don Hodel (the Energy Department secretary) over to Interior, why not give him both?" Before you can say Reddy Kilowatt, the idea is buzzing all over Washington.
Abolishing the Energy Department has been one of the President Reagan's pet ideas for some time. During his first term, the formal Administration proposal was to send most of the necessary remnants over to the Commerce Department. The plan died a quick death in Congress.
So, too, should the notion of consolidating Energy and Interior, if that quirky idea survives long enough to get put down on paper. Traditionally the Interior Department has been the federal agency with the major responsibility for protecting the nation's natural resources. Part of Interior's job, as well, is to exploit those resources. The agency issues leases on federal lands for oil and gas development, mining, geothermal steam production, livestock grazing and the like.
Still, Interior can maintain its protective role by stipulating carefully just how and where the exploiting is to be done. It is a fine balance that has been strained to the limit by the Reagan Administration. It would be a major mistake to further institutionalize Interior's exploitative side by saddling it with Energy Department development mandates.