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Profile: Gale A. Norton
Positions that Gale A. Norton has held:
Gale A. Norton was a participant or observer in the following events:
Representatives of 13 environmentalist groups meet with officials from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Since late January, some 40 task force meetings have been held, all with oil and energy company executives and lobbyists (see Before January 20, 2001, After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 5, 2001, March 20, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001. April 17, 2001, and April 17, 2001 and After). Today is the one day where environmental groups are allowed to have any input. Anna Aurilio of the US Public Interest Group will later say, “It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us.” (Notably, the only people ever identified as “lobbyists” by the task force to the press are the representatives from the environmental groups from today’s meeting.) Their input is neither wanted nor used; an initial draft of the task force’s report has already been prepared and President Bush has already been briefed on its contents. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released for six years (see July 18, 2007). Until this meeting, the only environmentalist group to meet with the Cheney task force has been the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and Gale Norton, now the Bush administration’s Secretary of the Interior. That group is now run by Italia Federici, described by the Washington Post as “socially involved” with Norton’s deputy, J. Steven Griles. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 18; Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
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]
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]
Interior Secretary Gale Norton presents President George Bush with a report detailing the achievements of the National Park Service. The report calls attention to the $2.9 billion that the Bush administration says it has set aside for the park’s maintenance backlog. [National Park Service, 7/2/2003] But the figure is misleading because it actually refers the park’s entire maintenance budget. Only $370 million of that amount represents funds allocated to the maintenance backlog. Moreover, as the National Parks Conservation Association notes, “the president’s budget is [actually] contributing to the backlog by ignoring the annual needs of the national parks, which continue to operate with only two-thirds of the needed funding.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 7/9/2003; CNN, 8/15/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003] According to the General Accounting Office, the Park Service needs upwards of $6.8 billion to complete the deferred maintenance and repairs. Critics of the administration’s record also note that the administration’s lax enforcement of clean air policies and its plan to replace some parks’ staff with private contractors are serious threats to the national park system. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003]
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]
Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl—“recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Associated Press, 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archaeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).
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]
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announces that the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will provide an estimated $1 billion in subsidies to promote deep drilling for natural gas in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Companies that drill wells deeper than 15,000 feet will be exempt from having to pay royalties on the first 15 billion cubic feet of gas produced. For wells deeper than 18,000 feet, royalties will be waived on the first 25 billion cubic feet. The royalty waiver will be discontinued if natural gas prices exceed $9.34 per thousand cubic feet. Without the subsidy, it would be too costly for companies to drill such wells. Norton claims that the program will save consumers money and create an estimated 26,000 new jobs. [Associated Press, 1/23/2003; Petroleum News, 2/1/2004]
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]
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