SPADES | politicians

GALE NORTON : 5 of spades
(L) (what do these signs mean?)

At Gale Norton's confirmation hearing as Secretary of the Interior, Martha Marks, President of Republicans for Environmental Protection, testified:

"I did not want to be here today. I am a life-long Republican. I am a Republican elected official. And I had hoped that our new President would choose an Interior Secretary who was committed to the great conservation tradition of Theodore Roosevelt. We at REP America would have cheered such a nominee and defended him or her against partisan attacks.

"But as Republicans who believe that conservation is fundamentally conservative, we are compelled to speak out against the nomination of Gale Norton. With so many pro-conservation Republicans qualified for this position, we cannot understand why President-elect Bush chose someone who holds views shared by only a minority in our party and the nation at large."

Marks' group is not just moderate Republicans. Barry Goldwater was a member.


Goldwater's genuine conservative approach to nature is incomprehensible to today's radical right extremists; "While I am a great believer in the free, competitive enterprise system, and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment."


Gale Norton was appointed Secretary of the Interior after a long career demonstrating loyalty to industry's interests rather than those of the environment or American people, whenever they contradicted big money, as they usually did, on public lands and resource issues. Americans consistently say they want more environmental protection, more preservation of wildlife and wilderness, and more environmental sensitivity, with the interests of oil, gas, and mining development having to fit into those priorities. Norton disagrees.

Watching her actions, it is easy to suspect that her grasp of the word "public" in "public lands" is a bit weak, perhaps even illiterate. Part of the controversy over Norton's work has been her professed adherence to a "libertarian" approach to the environment. But libertarians object to government subsidies. As we shall see, Norton demonstrates no such scruples, at least when large corporations are involved. Neither public servant nor principled libertarian, Norton's record below demonstrates what she really is.

Alaska lies
On June 11, 2001, Norton wrote Alaska Senator Murkowski, responding to questions he had asked about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

"Thank you for your letter of May 15, 2001. I am pleased to respond to the questions that you have asked about the resources and wildlife in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). As the information provided below demonstrates, I believe that we can ensure that any exploration and development of the oil and natural gas reserves in the 1002 Area of ANWR can be conducted in a manner that is protective of the environment and minimizes impacts on wildlife in the area.

1. What is the Porcupine Caribou Herd's historic calving range?

"The historic calving range of the Porcupine caribou herd (PCH) covers an area of approximately 8.9 million acres. Figure 2 shows the extent of calving during 1983-2000. Concentrated calving occurred primarily outside of the 1002 Area in 11 of the last 18 years." [Italics Chatterbox's.]

But Norton's letter was dishonest. Here is what she had been provided by Interior's own Fish and Wildlife Service scientists as a draft of the letter:

"Dear Mr. Chairman:
"Thank you for your letter of May 15, 2001 . The questions in your letter are presented in bold below, followed by our responding information.

1. What is the Porcupine Caribou Herd's historic calving range?

"The historic calving range of the PCH extends across the arctic coastal plain, foothills, and northern mountain valleys. Figure 2 shows the extent of calving during 1983-2000. According to historic records, calving concentrations have not occurred on a relatively small portion (Canning delta and northern coastal margin) of the Arctic Refuge "1002 Area." Portions of the eastern segment of the Central Arctic Herd use the Canning River delta area for calving. There have been PCH calving concentrations within the 1002 Area for 27 of 30 years

Norton used the agency's statement that the migratory Porcupine do not concentrate most of their calving in the 1002 area in years of late snowmelt, because they can't reach it in time. Then she added that "concentrated calving occurred primarily outside the 1002 area in 11 of the last 18 years," when she should have said "inside."

Norton also neglected to mention Fish and Wildlife's data illustrating that "calf production and early survival of calves are lower in such years" when the caribou do not calve in the 1002 area.

Michael Grunwald, "Department Differences Show Over ANWR Drilling," in the October 19, 2001, Washington Post.
The Washington Post

See also:

On March 3, 2003, the New York Times reported that the National Research Council issued a report on oil drilling at other places on Alaska's north slope. The report had been commissioned by Republican lawmakers who supported drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. The report concluded that widespread environmental damage would likely never be repaired, at least in the lifetime of anyone living. This was due to the fragility of the terrain, severity of the climate, and the complete lack of any state and federal requirements that oil companies clean up after themselves, or restore damaged areas. The chairman of the panel, Dr. Gordon H. Orians, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Washington, said "There's no vision and planning for where things ought to go." He added "Unless this is improved substantially undesirable effects in the future are likely to be greater." (New York Times, 3/5/03)


Norton made no change in her position, even to the point of demanding oil companies clean up after themselves in the way the report suggested might significantly alleviate the damage they would cause.

Yellowstone lies
In its perpetual quest to appear other than it is, the Bush administration, has asked a United Nations committee to remove Yellowstone Park from a list of World Heritage sites that are As usual, this is spin. The report they cited by Yellowstone's professional staff disagrees with the administration's claim they are addressing the problems that put Yellowstone on the endangered list in 1995. A draft report by the staff earlier this year identified continuing threats to the well being of Yellowstone's streams, bison herd and cutthroat trout as well as the overall quality of visitors' experience in the park. The major remaining threats were mining waste (see below), introduced lake trout, and introduced trout diseases.

Writing for the LA Times, Elizabeth Shogren pointed out: " The final report sent to the international committee by the Bush administration had toned down or even deleted these concerns." Shogren quoted Roger G. Kennedy, a former director of the National Park Service, as saying "Tinkering with scientific information, either striking it from reports or altering it, is becoming a pattern of behavior." Kennedy added "It represents the politicizing of a scientific process, which at once manifests a disdain for professional scientists working for our government and a willingness to be less than candid with the American people."


Snowmobile corruption
Norton just can't seem to treat Yellowstone as anything of more value than a trading chip for special interests. Winter snowmobiles have become a major issue in Yellowstone. Because of serious air pollution Park rangers at entrance stations need to wear gas masks. Welcome to wild nature!

To this mess is added noise pollution, haze around Old Faithful, and adverse effects on wildlife. After considerable research the Clinton administration decided to phase the things out in favor of snow coaches which also give access to the park's winter wonders, but without the negative side effects. Upon taking office Norton's Interior reversed the decision, despite 300 pages of research by the Park Service (that Norton chose to keep secret), and the overwhelming input of the public.

Norton and her allies justified their decision by claiming that the new four stroke versions of snowmobiles would be quieter and cleaner than the old two stroke engines. (New York Times, 1/31/03)

Turns out less than a year later the new snowmobiles are dirtier than the old ones. Four stroke engines are cleaner and quieter, for the same horsepower. But the new machines are dirtier and noisier than last year's because they have more power. Bush's EPA has also concluded they should go. Ironically, environmental groups are taking Interior to court to get it to enforce the law they used to allow snowmobiles into the park because, under that law, the new snowmobiles are illegal! As the New York Times editorialized on October 13, 2003, "in the way they've handled this matter, the Interior department and the snowmobile manufacturers have been guilty of disingenuousness at best, lying at worst." Given Norton's record, we'd vote for lying.

After being caught altering the data she sent to Sen. Murkowski, Norton responded "We did make a mistake. We will take steps to clarify and correct that." Obviously she failed to correct it before the Yellowstone episode. But maybe that finally showed her how to avoid future "mistakes."

Now Norton wants to "contract out" work currently done by National Park Service scientists. Contracting out has two advantages. First, contracted out work encourages scientists to come up with answers those hiring the agency want. There is no civil service protection for work that does not please political superiors, and the likelihood of contracts being renewed is based on the satisfaction of politicians with the conclusions the researchers reach. Second, Norton does not have to be embarrassed by agency scientists exposing her decisions as scientifically baseless. It is a double gain. For her. A double loss, for science, the environment, and the American people.


For example, Washington State's spotted owl population has declined dramatically over the past 15 years - perhaps as much as 50% in the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade Mountains. This information is from research by the US Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Stations. It is also not welcome to the Bush administration. So, Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded a private consulting firm $415,000 to study whether the spotted owl should keep its listing as a threatened species. If the company receiving the grant wants to receive more grants, we can guess what they will discover. If they are good scientists, there may well be a tough decision for them to make

Flouting the Rule of Law I
Due to inaction in protecting Arizona's Sonoran pronghorn antelope, in 2001 a court ordered her department to take clear steps to protect the animals from extinction. In 2002 the population had dwindled to between 50 and 80 antelope. The chief causes have been fragmented grazing due to grazing allotments for subsidized cattle, military bombing, and disruptive activities by many federal agencies, leaving it vulnerable to the drought currently gripping the region. Almost all fawns died in 2002 and the population had dramatically fallen from 250 or so only a few years earlier.

Norton did nothing, despite the ruling, forcing Defenders of Wildlife to go again to the courts asking the judge to enforce the earlier ruling.


Today the pronghorn are down to possibly as few as 20 individuals. Soon Norton's new environmentalism will have solved the problem of pronghorn extinction. Courts be damned.


Flouting the Rule of Law II
Norton has had plenty of time to deal with a problem she inherited from past Secretaries of the Interior - the Department;'s criminal negligence of its trustee duties on behalf of Native Americans. Yet she has been held in contempt of court (like two predecessors) for refusing to clean up trust records over Indian lands. Elouise Cobell wrote in August, 2003, that Interior "cannot certify the accuracy of a single one of the estimated 500,000 current individual Indian trust accounts." Tens of millions of acres of native owned land have been leased to oil, gas, and mineral companies, and the proceeds used for anything but their legal purpose: assisting native peoples.

Norton prattles constantly about the sanctity of contract. What about long standing contractual obligations to the peoples who formerly owned this land - and who still have legal claim to some of it? But of course, Norton's devotion to contract and property rights holds only for the powerful. Indians need not apply. Nor, for that matter, need any other citizens who do not have "Inc." after their name.


Salmon kills for political gain
Norton's Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for the death of over 35,000 coho salmon on the lower Klamath river in California. Norton overruled previous agency decisions and instituted a 10-year plan to manage Klamath River flows at levels below the minimum recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service scientists to protect endangered salmon. The fish died so that tax payer subsidized farmers could continue receiving scarce water to grow crops they could not sell profitably. Meanwhile, Indians treaty rights (property rights, Ms. Norton?) and commercial and recreational fisheries were hung out to dry. (Free market environmentalism, Ms. Norton?)

Hypocrisy on such a mammoth scale is yet another example of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the radical right's domination of our government, a domination deaf to science, good sense, morality, and the public will. However, a domination apparently very open to the influence of Karl Rove, a man utterly ignorant of biology but filled with a need for personal power.


The result has been another lawsuit by an Indian tribe, the Yurok, against Norton and Interior, and this year, a wiser approach to preserving decent water flows in the Klamath. Hopefully the politically inspired disaster of last year will not be repeated, even if only to prevent political embarrassment rather than any concern for the environment on Norton's part.


The full cynicism of Norton's stewardship at Interior comes clear when we see that she saves major anti-environmental policy announcements for Fridays, when Americans are paying attention to the coming weekend, and news follow-through will be at its weakest. In 2003, on a Friday evening in June, after Congress recessed and too late for the news, Norton's Interior announced an end to any further wilderness designations of public lands, opening up 250 million acres to mining and drilling.


Public service, Bush style.

Just this past Friday (October 11, 2003) the Interior Department acted again, overturning regulations that strictly regulated how much public land could be used for dumping mining waste. Mining waste provides the largest volume of toxic waste annually dumped in the United States, so Norton's actions will have a profound effect on may areas. Again, profits for subsidized private corporations triumphs over protection of the public's land.

"Free Market" Environmentalism, Norton style.

For more on the role of corporate cronies and the dept. of Interior, see

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