Bush Taps Watt Protege for Interior
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Bush Taps Watt Protege for Interior
By Brian Hansen
WASHINGTON, DC, December 29, 2000 (ENS) - In a move that sent
shock waves through the environmental community, President elect
George W. Bush today nominated Gale Norton to head up the
Department of the Interior in his incoming administration. Norton, who
served as attorney general for the state of Colorado for eight years,
is a protégé of James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's highly
controversial Interior Secretary.
Announcing his pick at the presidential transition office in
Washington, Bush said that the nation needs an Interior Secretary
who will "respect the land and honor our national commitment to
conservation." Bush praised Norton as someone with a reputation for
"building consensus on divisive issues," and said that his Interior
Secretary will have a "clear charge" in his administration.
"We will restore our national park system, we will develop
partnerships with states and local governments and private citizens
to conserve our lands and resources, and to protect the endangered
species of America," Bush said.
Bush added that he will work with Norton to
"find ways to develop our nation's resources
in a balanced and an environmentally friendly
But the president elect's remarks did not
evoke confidence among the nation's
environmental leaders, who feared that Norton's appointment will
usher in a return to the types of policies put forth during the
tumultuous Watt era.
"Gale Norton was a close deputy to James Watt, who was the most
notorious anti-environmental Interior Secretary in history," said Bruce
Hamilton, the Sierra Club's national conservation director. "I have yet
to hear anything from Gale Norton's lips that would indicate that she
doesn't agree with those kinds of policies."
Norton, in her brief remarks at the Friday morning ceremony, said
nothing about her ties to Watt, a man viewed with horror by most
environmentalists. Norton said she looks forward to tackling a host of
"challenging and important" issues if she is confirmed as Interior
Secretary by the U.S. Senate.
"I welcome the opportunity to work with President elect Bush to
preserve our wonderful national treasures, to restore endangered
species, and help Americans enjoy the great outdoors," Norton said.
INTERIOR SECRETARY WIELDS POWER OVER A THIRD OF THE
One of the oldest Cabinet level positions in the U.S. government, the
Interior Secretary is saddled with myriad responsibilities, such as
managing millions of acres of federal lands and enforcing laws that
protect endangered species.
As the nation's principal conservation agency, the Interior
Department governs a host of federal agencies, including the National
Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the Minerals Management Service, the Office of
Surface Mining, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological
Norton noted that a full third of the nation's land is owned by the
federal government. She said that she will work with all of the federal
land management agencies to insure that America's public land is
"used in an environmentally responsible way."
Echoing a principle frequently articulated by Bush, Norton said that
the Interior Department "must build strong partnerships ... with
states, local governments and private citizens to make thoughtful
decisions about natural resources."
Norton said that as Colorado Attorney General, she worked with other
policymakers in a "bipartisan way" to find common ground on difficult
issues. She spoke about her affinity for Colorado's Rocky Mountains,
where she said she frequently hikes with her dog, watches wildlife,
"In fact, if it were not for a call from the Bush transition team, my
husband John and I would be skiing in those mountains today,"
NORTON APPOINTMENT A SURPRISE
Norton's nomination as Interior Secretary came as a surprise for many
political observers. For weeks, the front runner for the post was
thought to be Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat
turned Republican and the only Native American in the U.S. Congress.
But with the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans,
it could have been a political blunder for Bush to tap Campbell for the
Cabinet post, sources tell ENS.
Norton served as Colorado Attorney General from 1991 to 1999.
During her tenure, she litigated state and federal constitutional
issues, defended the state of Colorado against federal mandates, and
chaired the environmental committee of the National Association of
Attorneys General, according to a biography distributed by the Bush
Norton was appointed to the Western Water Policy Commission by
President elect Bush's father, former President George Bush. She
currently serves as the environment committee chair for the
Republican National Lawyers Association, as well as general counsel
of the Colorado Civil Justice League.
Norton is employed as senior counsel at Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber,
P.C., a politically influential Denver law firm.
Prior to being elected Colorado Attorney General, Norton worked in
Washington as an associate solicitor for the Interior Department, as
well as an assistant to the deputy secretary of the Agriculture
Department. In 1979, Norton went to work for the Mountain States
Legal Foundation, a Denver based legal center whose leaders
describe it as being "dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own
property, limited government and the free enterprise system."
Others describe the organization differently.
"The Mountain States Legal Foundation is a right wing,
anti-environmental organization that is primarily set up to thwart
environmental laws," said the Sierra Club's Hamilton. "Whenever there
is a dollar to be made off of the public lands, the Mountain States
Legal Foundation supports those people that want to make that
dollar, regardless of whether it impacts wilderness, wild rivers,
wildlife, clean air or clean water."
"This is a group that promotes exploitation over preservation,"
TIES TO JAMES WATT RAISE RED FLAGS
Norton was hired at the firm by James Watt, the organization's
founding president. Watt later became President Ronald Reagan's
Interior Secretary, but was later forced to resign because of his
extremist beliefs regarding the stewardship of the nation's public
The Mountain States Legal Foundation has been a major thorn in the
side of the Clinton administration, which many environmental groups
maintain has compiled one of the best environmental records in the
nation's history. The foundation currently has a lawsuit pending
against Clinton for his use of the federal Antiquities Act, which the
outgoing president has used to create a host of national monuments
throughout the American West.
William Perry Pendly, the group's current president, said in August
that Clinton "thumbed his nose at the West, at the Constitution, and
at Congress" when he used the Act to designate the monuments.
President elect Bush has also been critical of the Clinton
administration's initiative, and he has hinted that he might take steps
to return the lands to their previous management status.
Norton, asked today if she would recommend such a move, said, "the
West was concerned about those decisions in large part because
there was no consultation with the people whose lives were most
affected by land withdrawals by the Clinton administration. I will be
discussing those issues with the Senate as part of my confirmation
hearings, and at this time I have no position on what the incoming
administration will be doing as to those designations."
Norton was also asked about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge to oil and gas exploration, an initiative decried by
environmentalists and hundreds of the nation's most eminent
scientists. Norton worked to open the refuge during her previous
tenure at the Interior Department, and the initiative was a central
plank of Bush's campaign platform.
"That is an issue ... that I cannot comment on in terms of my own
actions on that, but I do support the president in the positions that
he has taken during his campaign," Norton said Friday.
Susan Lefever, director of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter,
said that Norton was "not very strong in enforcing environmental laws
as [Colorado] attorney general." Levefer noted that Norton was a
strong supporter of the state's "self audit" law," which grants
prosecutorial immunity to industries that voluntarily disclose their
pollution laws violations to state regulators.
"That doesn't bode well for a Secretary of the Interior," said Lefever,
who noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has
vigorously objected to the Colorado statute.
REPUBLICAN ENVIROS CRITICAL OF NORTON
Norton also once chaired an organization known as the Coalition for
Republican Environmental Advocates (CREA), which even Republican
environmentalists have denounced as an environmental fraud. Anne
Callison, a Colorado resident and a board member of the group
Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), called CREA "the
"From my perspective, CREA was a front for a 'wise use' group,"
Callison said. "They've done nothing to protect human health, the
environment, or to conserve a single acre of wilderness in this
CREA was founded in 1998, and according to its mission statement,
was "dedicated to fostering environmental protection by promoting
fair, community based solutions to environmental challenges."
The group held a fundraising event that year in Washington, where
the keynote address was delivered by then Speaker of the House
Newt Gingrich. Other noted Republican lawmakers who were
associated with the organization included Alaska Congressman Don
Young, and Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth.
According to the League of Conservation Voters, the environmental
voting records of the CREA members were among the worst on
CREA was funded by corporations and lobbying organizations that
have long been the bane of the environmental movement, such as
the Coors Brewing Company, the American Forest Paper Association,
the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the National Mining
Association, and a host of petroleum companies.
The organization has also drew a sharp rebuke from Congressman
Theodore Roosevelt IV, whose great-great grandfather is often
heralded as the nation's most important environmental president.
Congressman Roosevelt once declared that he was "not amused" that
CREA had modeled its environmental "Teddy" award on his
Norton's affiliation with CREA, as well as her positions on the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge, were very troubling for Martha Marks, the
president of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
"She does not have a good image among environmental organizations,
including ours," Marks said. "We are going to give her a chance as
Interior Secretary, but we have not been encouraged by President
elect Bush's environmental positions on many things."
More information about Norton and Bush's other Cabinet nominees is
available on the incoming administration's website at:
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