Personality Spotlight;NEWLN:James G. Watt -- Interior Secretary Nominee

James G. Watt, a man of the Rocky Mountain West, is a legal activist and former middle-level federal bureaucrat often at odds with environmentalists. He is Ronald Reagan's choice for interior secretary.

The main yardstick to measure what kind of secretary he will be is Watt's three-year tenure as president and chief legal officer of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, formed to counteract the growing legal influence of environmentalists.


Watt's focus has been development of energy. He says environmental extremistsmay destroy what they seek to protect.

His past statements have called for what he sees as an orderly development of the West's vast resources. Otherwise, he said, the nation might be forced in an energy crisis to develop the resources at such a rapid pace that the environment would be forgotten.

Watt, 42, was born in Lusk, Wyo., Jan. 31, 1938, and holds degrees from the University of Wyoming. He went to Washington in 1962 as legislative assistant and counsel to then-Sen. Milward Simpson, R-Wyo., and one of Watt's backers for interior was Simpson's son, Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo.

Watt was a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1966 to 1968, representing the chamber in legislation on mining, public lands, energy, water and environmental pollution.


He worked in the Interior Department in the Nixon and Ford administrations, from 169 to 1975 -- first as deputy secretary for water and power resources,then as chief of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. President Gerald Ford appointed him vice chairman of the Federal Power Commission in 1975.

With the FPC, Watt advocated policies to permit private capital formation to develop and build energy sources.

He became president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1977. One of the foundation's principle backers has been Joseph Coors, head of the Coors brewery family, long a supporter of conservative causes and a friend of Reagan.

Among the legal challenges the foundation has won was a fight this year over the oil-rich Overthrust Belt in Wyoming.

The U.S. Forest Service had tried to block development in the area while the government determined if part of the area should be designated a wilderness area. Watt succeeded in court in overturning the Forest Service's attempt.

Watt's group earlier this year successfully intervened to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from forcing the Colorado Legislature to adopt automobile emission controls.

Another foundation suit pending challenges the National Park Service's plans to keep motorized rafts off the Grand Canyon's Colorado River.


Watt has supported the Sagebrush Rebellion, the movement which wants federal land in the West turned back to state control.

The foundation, part of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, is an organization with representatives in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Included in its suits is one to force the Phoenix, Ariz., school board to spend tax money only within the schools -- making illegal a program to help high school dropouts; and'one arguing the Colorado public utilities cannot give rate breaks to the handicapped, the elderly or the poor.

Among the foundation's directors are Coors; Karl Eller of Phoenix, president of Charter Media, Inc., and former Sen. Clifford Hansen of Wyoming, who had been in the running for the cabinet post.

Watt and his wife, Laelani, have two children -- Eric and Erin.

Latest Headlines