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Babbitt Assails GOP Plan to Cut 3 Interior Agencies : Government: He says work of the U.S. Geological Survey is crucial to better understanding of earthquakes. He hopes to 'provoke a tidal wave of indignation.'


Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on Wednesday assailed Republican budget cutters for proposing to eliminate three scientific agencies within the Interior Department, and warned that President Clinton might not be able to save them.

Speaking at Caltech, Babbitt identified the endangered agencies as the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Biological Survey and the Bureau of Mines. He said the three agencies have budgets totaling about $1 billion a year.

Babbitt, who has two academic degrees in geology, decried what he called "a notion that science is a problem, that we'd be better off without knowledge."

Babbitt said he hoped to "provoke a tidal wave of indignation" in California against any move to do away with the 116-year-old Geological Survey.

The agency has long played a prominent role in assessing earthquake dangers in California and studying earthquakes when they occur.

Babbitt said he would be pleased if "15 million Californians inundated Congress" with letters and messages supporting the Geological Survey. "I can't believe we have a serious proposal saying that it . . . should be thrown on the scrapheap of history."

Its work is vital, he added, because "we can't repeal the laws of plate tectonics. We can't move California. We can't pack up Los Angeles."

Research into better understanding of earthquakes and assessing quake probabilities must go on, he said, so that quake mitigation is encouraged in endangered areas.

Unfortunately, Babbitt said, elimination of any one of the three agencies "could happen in an instant" and it would be "very difficult for the President to respond."

"Because such decisions could come in a budget bill of $1.5 trillion, it would not be easy for the President to veto them," Babbitt said.

Geological Survey staff members were present at the news conference. Babbitt made it a point to laud the work of Lucile M. Jones, an expert on earthquake prediction and quake foreshocks.

Babbitt added that he would be prepared to cut the budgets of the scientific agencies. He said that would be vastly preferable to elimination.

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