[env-trinity] Gale Norton to resign from Cabinet

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Fri Mar 10 10:43:39 PST 2006

Article Launched: 3/10/2006 09:59 AM

Gale Norton to resign from Cabinet

By Mike Soraghan
Denver Post Staff Writer

Washington - Gale Norton is announcing her resignation today after serving more than five years as secretary of the Interior and overseeing a dramatic expansion of drilling, logging and development on the public lands of the West.
But the former Colorado attorney general is to leave office at the end of the month without achieving her highest-profile political goal, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.

A source who requested anonymity said she is not leaving because of any problems, and is expected to cite water issues and her push for "cooperative conservation" among her accomplishments.

"She wants to go home for a while," the source said.

No successor has been named, but the confirmation hearings could give Democrats an opening to highlight their dissatisfaction with Bush on environmental issues. They could also use it as a way to highlight administration connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who lobbied the department on Indian casino issues.

Norton, who was the first female Interior secretary, has served since the earliest days of the Bush administration. Her background working with polarizing former Interior Secretary James Watt for logging and mining interests made her one of Bush's most controversial cabinet nominees.

A much more careful speaker, she proved less fiery than Watt, but achieved more in the way of opening up public lands for development. Under her watch, the department stripped protection from areas previously managed as wilderness, opened up forests to increased logging, sent snowmobiles back into Yellowstone and pressed federal land managers to speed up drilling for gas on public lands.

While natural gas supplies increased, the environment suffered, according to environmentalists and government auditors. A report by the Government Accountability Office last year found that the focus on processing drilling permits for gas companies often left environmental monitoring undone.

Norton, however, stressed that she was working toward "cooperative conservation," a way to achieve environmental results by partnering with landowners and developers rather than regulating them.

Norton's tenure was also marked by repeated ethical controversies. Norton cleared her top deputy, former lobbyist J. Steven Griles, after her inspector general said his conduct showed that the department's ethics system was "a train wreck

waiting to happen." Griles is now under investigation for allegations that he did the bidding of convicted Indian casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Norton is still supporting him.

Abramoff also funneled more than $500,000 to one of Norton's former political aides, Italia Federici, to gain access to her department, which makes key decisions about which tribes can open casinos. Norton said she had no qualms about Federici's activities.

Norton's BLM director Kathleen Clarke remained after apparently violating her recusals from a Utah land-swap that investigators said would have shortchanged the federal government. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the deal involved a "jaw-dropping ... apparent cover-up" within Norton's department.

She also suffered bad publicity when the head of the National Park Service police was fired after talking to a reporter and congressional staff about budget shortfalls.

Norton was also the first Bush cabinet official to be held in contempt, though the ruling regarding Indian trust issues was later overruled by an appeals court.

The Indian trust case metastasized from an obscure bookkeeping mess to a drain on Norton's entire department. She once said the issue occupied her top staff more than any other issue.

In the National Journal Political Insider's Poll last year, she was voted the second-most underrated Bush cabinet secretary by Republican operatives who credited her with pursuing Bush's pro-development agenda with a minimum of bad publicity.

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