Congress may be learning to live with, if not love, the MX. And the nuclear freeze movement may have thawed considerably. But that doesn't mean there isn't organized public opposition to the MX, especially among folks in the shadow of the new, big intercontinental ballistic missile's planned home.
''They're looking at where we live,'' says Rodney Kirkbride, a Wyoming cattleman whose ranch is just a short horseback ride from three missile silos. ''I've gotten used to the Minuteman, I guess,'' he says in a telephone interview , referring to the missiles that have been nearby for years. ''But they want more land, more water, more everything for the MX.''
The US Air Force has just issued a draft environmental impact statement concluding that, in general, putting 100 missiles in existing silos in Wyoming and Nebraska won't disturb too many gophers or cause a boom-bust cycle in local communities.
But opponents say this is a superficial ''public works'' reading of the impact, which ignores a worst-case scenario of war or accidental detonation. In a lawsuit soon to be argued in the US Court of Appeals here, they assert that the Air Force cannot ''continue to treat the MX like just another runway extension or base closure,'' and that the full study and reporting requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act must be met.
Meanwhile, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, and church and peace groups are lobbying their Rocky Mountain government representatives and neighbors about the likely effects of 100 MX missiles on water resources, wildlife, community services, and cultural values. And while they realize that Utah and Nevada successfully stopped the race-track basing mode for the MX, which was favored by the Carter administration, they also know that the battle is likely to be uphill.
''This is a conservative state, and many people aren't in the habit of questioning the federal government,'' says Tim Strand, a young optometrist from Cheyenne, Wyo., and chairman of Western Solidarity, an eight-state coalition of anti-MX groups.
While the governor and congressional delegation in nearby Colorado oppose the MX, most officials in Wyoming are for it.
In Nebraska, elected representatives are split on the issue. US Rep. Virginia Smith, a Republican rancher who generally supports the Pentagon, is opposed to the MX missiles, some of which would be housed in her district. Rep. Hal Daub (R), whose district includes the Strategic Air Command headquarters near Omaha, favors the MX.
Air Force officials have told Congress that while ''very little military construction'' will be necessary to house the MX in existing Minuteman missile silos, the project ''still requires considerable construction in the operational and logistical support, training, and research-and-development catagories.''
In its recent environmental statement, the Air Force concludes that with the exception of possible danger to a few threatened or endangered species of wildlife (including the bald eagle), the project's effect on the area will be ''generally moderate-to-low.''
That has not satisfied opponents, who now find that some families will have to be relocated (or sign waivers accepting responsibility) because of possible increased hazards associated with the MX.
Inhabited buildings are allowed within 1,200 feet of Minuteman missiles, but the Air Force says this safety zone must be extended to 1,750 feet for the MX. This puts Glenda Parsons's seven-bedroom house, the new shop she just built for her sons, and other farm buildings too close to the silo she's been next to for years.
''I never dreamed they'd say we want you to move,'' says Mrs. Parsons, who has raised 12 children on her 640-acre ranch near Bushnell, Neb. ''It's a heck of a thing to be faced with when you've worked here 27 years to get the place the way you want it.''
Critics also are concerned that once the new missiles have replaced the old, the Air Force may want to build an anti-ballistic missile defense system and ''super harden'' existing silos to protect against attack. Both of these would cause more disruption.
''I personnally believe the Air Force isn't telling people the whole story,'' says Mr. Strand of Western Solidarity.
But opponents also think the federal government should consider the more stark facts about what would happen to this rural region if the MX missiles, which some experts think will make nuclear war more likely, were to be launched or accidently blow up.
''That is the real issue that must be confronted,'' said Nicholas Yost, a Washington lawyer for a dozen church, farm, and environmental groups suing the Defense Department. The case will be heard in federal court here as soon as next month, when hearings on the Air Force's environmental impact statement also will be held.