Greens campaign against new Interior Secretary

Environmental groups across the US have launched a flurry of campaigns to prevent Gale Norton from becoming the next Secretary of the Interior, amid accusations that she is on the side of the logging and oil industries, and that she is insensitive towards racial issues.

President-elect George W Bush’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior is one of his most controversial choices for key posts in his new administration, and even faces an attack from a Republican group. If selected, Norton would be responsible for the management of nearly half a million acres of federal lands, including the entire National Park system; for enforcing laws protecting endangered species and national wildlife refuges; and for ensuring that Indian Tribal reservations receive adequate economic, educational and social services.

“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,” said Martha Marks, President of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America). “But as Republicans who believe that conservation is fundamentally conservative, we are compelled to speak out against the nomination of Gale Norton.” According to the group, Bush has a number of pro-conservation Republicans qualified for the position to chose from, but has instead decided to back someone who holds views shared by only a minority of the party and the US at large. “Our party’s own polls consistently show that a wide majority of Republican voters want strong, effective environmental protection,” said Marks.

One of the REP America’s many criticisms of Norton is that in 1998 she founded the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates (CREA), an organisation which, they say, is a green ‘scam’, designed to con voters into believing that certain high-ranking members of the party have environmental credentials. A number of Congressional members of the organisation, they say, have notoriously poor records on the environment, and CREA supporters and fundraisers include lobbyists for the oil, timber, chemical and other special interests that have pushed the authorities hard to relax environmental protection and remediation standards.

“Gale Norton is the wrong choice for Interior Secretary,” said Marks. “Her nomination sends a very bad signal to the American people. We will be urging President-elect Bush to withdraw it; and if he does not, we will ask our senators to vote against it.”

Norton’s supporters, however, wax lyrical about her environmental record. “Ms Norton has over seen successes in hazardous waste cleanups, application of environmental audits, preservation of wilderness areas, and aggressive enforcement of environmental laws,” said Dr David Riggs, Director of Land and Natural Resource Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). “At the same time, she has encouraged business to work with the government of her home state of Colorado to achieve the highest levels of environmental quality with the smallest number of hours spent on paperwork and litigation.” Norton would offer the US an opportunity to rethink environmental policy, points out Riggs, and will halt the decline in forest health, and other supporters are hoping that she will protect rural employment.

The Sierra Club, nevertheless, one of the US’s oldest conservation groups, agrees with REP America that Norton’s attitude towards the environment is out of step with the majority of Americans, and has launched a radio and television advertisement urging voters to ask their Senators to oppose the confirmation. “Gale Norton’s extremist agenda clashes with mainstream Americans who love our National Parks and wild lands,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “We are mobilising people to tell their Senators that America needs a Secretary of the Interior who will fulfil the duties of protecting and maintaining our nation’s public lands.”

“Norton’s nomination is a giant reward to the oil, gas and mining interest that helped fund President-elect Bush’ campaign,” added Pope.

Minority groups are also concerned about the effect that Norton could have as Secretary of the Interior. “Just as she surely will not be hugging trees, her record strongly suggests she will not embrace efforts to correct and end environmental racism, which ravages so many communities of color,” said Julian bond, Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). “This nomination threatens to divide, not unite, Americans. Like defeated Senator John Ashcroft, she occupies the radical fringe of American opinion and should not be confirmed. In casting their votes on these and other nominees, Senators of both parties should know their votes would be remembered. They cannot celebrate Martin Luther King’s dream one day and destroy it the next.”

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