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Context of 'March 10, 2006: Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton Resigns; Then Gets Hired by Shell Oil'

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Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [US Department of the Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003] facilitating the timber industry’s access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry’s subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McInnis, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration’s policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation’s worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt’s strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America’s clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Associated Press, 1/22/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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