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Interior Secretary Opened Sensitive Public Lands to Industrial Destruction, Suppressed Science, and Worked to Cut Public Out of the Process

Statement by Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council Land Program Director

WASHINGTON (March 10, 2006) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton's resignation today ends five years of an unprecedented assault on the very lands the Interior Department is charged to protect, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

During her tenure Norton initiated a barrage of special interest favors at the expense of the public and our natural heritage. Her most egregious efforts include a wholesale effort to open vast areas of public wildlands to oil and gas drilling. She also blocked hard-won plans to control the use of snowmobiles in our national parks.

Norton campaigned tirelessly to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and did not hesitate to alter scientific findings that did not support her case. In October 2001, for example, she substantially rewrote biological findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning the impact of oil development in the refuge before delivering them to Congress. Norton also consistently misrepresented the facts about the issue in speeches and newspaper columns, according to NRDC.

Below is a statement by NRDC land program director Sharon Buccino:

"Gale Norton is responsible for the destruction of public wildlands and key wildlife habitat. Her goal was to give away as many of our publicly owned resources as she could to the energy, timber and mining industries, and by that measure, she was very successful. But the Interior Department's job also is to protect our land, protect our drinking water sources, and protect the wildlife that makes that land home. She never took that part of her responsibility seriously.

"Ms. Norton said she now is setting her sights on 'the private sector.' Unfortunately, her record suggests she has been working for private special interests all along."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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