NRDC Urges Senate to Reject Gale Norton as Interior Secretary

Statement by Gregory Wetstone, NRDC Director of Programs

WASHINGTON (January 12, 2001) - Gale Norton has devoted her life to undermining the mission of the agency she has been nominated to lead. Her nomination is a direct challenge to even the most basic land and wildlife stewardship, and a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of Americans who favor protecting our endangered natural resources.

Norton’s extreme views include the following:

  • She supports the idea that taxpayers be required to compensate polluters and developers to comply with environmental laws ("takings"), and lauds as "positive" the reduced environmental protection that would result from such a policy;

  • She supports oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s last truly pristine wild places and a critically important nursery ground for arctic wildlife, and crafted a defense for this position in the mid-1980s when she worked for James Watt at the Interior Department;

  • She has asserted that the Surface Mining Act and the Endangered Species Act are unconstitutional, and embraced an extremely narrow view of the Commerce Clause under which most other environmental statutes also would likely be unconstitutional;

  • She is a proponent of industry policing itself (self-auditing) instead of federal enforcement of environmental laws;

  • Her advocacy of "states rights" is so extreme that in a 1996 speech she lauded the Confederate Army while conceding "we certainly had bad facts in that case where we were defending state sovereignty while defending slavery" (emphasis added); and

  • She has a long record of opposing federal land and wildlife stewardship and instead favors logging, drilling, grazing and mining on public lands.

Norton’s philosophical opposition to environmental laws is of especially grave concern because her record suggests she is unwilling to enforce or defend laws with which she disagrees. As Colorado’s attorney general, she refused to defend the state’s racial preference laws in court, forcing then-Gov. Roy Romer to hire an outside attorney when the law was challenged in court.

On behalf of our more than 400,000 members, and the overwhelming majority of Americans who value our parks, forests and wildlife, NRDC urges the U.S. Senate to reject Norton’s nomination.