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Gale Norton:  American Voters oppose her approach and so should the Senate

Deb Callahan, President
League of Conservation Voters Education Fund

January 18, 2001

Today, the Senate Energy and Resources Committee is faced with an important opportunity.  During the confirmation hearing of Interior nominee Gale Norton, they can seek answers to the tough questions that expose the ideological anti-environmental leadership she will bring to the Interior department.  They have the opportunity to learn whether she will continue the practice of putting developers’ interests ahead of citizens’ interests, continue the policies of exploitation over conservation.

Regardless of how Gale Norton attempts to spin her anti-environmental record, one thing remains very clear:  Gale Norton’s extreme anti-environmental agenda is out of step with mainstream American values.  And we are clearly laying out these facts this week in ads in the Washington Post, Roll Call and The Hill newspapers.

Moderate Republicans throughout history, throughout the nation and throughout Congress have been champions of conservation and public lands protections.  Republican President Teddy Roosevelt initiated the federal conservation ethic in this country, an ethic that Gale Norton has strenuously fought against.    In fact, her staunch opposition to the values promoted by Roosevelt led his great-grandson and chairman of the LCV board to admonish the appointment of Norton.  In fact, in an article in this week’s New Yorker, Teddy Roosevelt IV equated Bush’s nominations to throwing dirty dishwater in the face of environmentalists – an action that will necessitate fierce environmental battles.

Gale Norton is clearly outside the tradition of the best Republican conservationists.  In fact, she clearly derives her guidance from the misguided attitudes of James Watt, not Theodore Roosevelt.  This should give moderate Republicans in both the House and Senate, and throughout the nation, significant reason for concern.  Norton clearly comes from the extreme anti-environmental James Watt end of the spectrum, a fact that is troubling for those of us who are working for bipartisan progress on these issues.

Polls consistently show that the majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike want stronger, better enforced, environmental and public health protections. Last Friday, we released a bipartisan poll that shows unmistakably that Americans care deeply about clean air, safe water and protected public lands.  Voters expect their elected officials – and even Cabinet appointees – to uphold these basic and precious American values.

While anti-environment opponents, including Gale Norton, have tried to use economic or business-related concerns to justify weakening environmental safeguards, an overwhelming 83 percent of voters reject the notion of a tradeoff between protecting the environment and having a strong economy.  A whopping 81 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents and 86 percent of Democrats believe that a healthy environment and a strong economy can coexist and we do not have to choose one over the other.  Short term, short-sighted profit motives should never outweigh the public’s long term interest in environmental protection.  Republicans, Democrats and Independents know this – but unfortunately, Gale Norton doesn’t.

Gale Norton thinks that current federal laws protecting the environment are burdensome and unfair to individuals and businesses, and need to be relaxed. 

What does the public believe?

81% of voters believe that tougher enforcement of environmental laws or stronger environmental laws are needed.  By contrast, only 3% of Americans think the current laws protecting the environment and enforcement of those laws are too strict and need to be relaxed. 

The nominee to head the Department of Interior agrees with only 3% of the public, or basically the margin of error for our poll.  81% disagree with her views.  You can’t get much farther out of step with mainstream thinking.

Gale Norton has made advocating for “local control” of lands a central theme throughout her career, beginning in her days at James Watt’s Mountain States Legal Foundation, and continuing today. Environmentalists advocate that federal public lands are resources that should be managed not just for the local citizens, but for all Americans.

What is the public’s view?

We found that by a margin of 72 % to 21 %, the voters want the government to continue its control of parks when contrasted with the alternative of giving up control. 

In a bit of irony, she makes the local control argument when it’s a convenient way to argue against federal protections.  But, as the Coloradoans who are here with us today specifically show, Norton is willing to subvert even the notion of local control to benefit the profit interests of developers.    Gale Norton is staunch advocate of developers, polluters and extractive interests, too often at the costs of our quality of life.   We need an interior secretary who refuses to allow private interests to dictate the policies protecting all our interests.

With this in mind, it is not at all surprising that 82 percent of voters believe that Cabinet appointees nominated by the President should be committed to protecting the environment.  When asked if Cabinet appointees should primarily be concerned about protecting the environment or reducing government regulation, voters chose protecting the environment by a two-to-one margin. 

Two things are unmistakably clear:  Americans want stronger environmental, public health and public lands protections and Gale Norton is not the person to give it to them. 

Bush made a politically risky decision in choosing Gale Norton.  Not only did he turn a blind eye to environmental priorities of the people, but he also set a course for public backlash come the 2002 mid-term elections.  If Bush, Norton and their allies in Congress work to rollback public lands protections and weaken public health safeguards, the anti-environment wing of the party will amplify public outcry against the entire party in the next election.  That’s clearly as dangerous for moderate Republicans as it is for the future of our public lands.

It’s no wonder that Republican Teddy Roosevelt IV and the organization REP America, Republicans for Environmental Protection, are staunchly opposed to the Norton nomination.

Today, we urge United States Senators to listen to the will of the people, choose the public interest over politics, and take a stand against the nomination of Gale Norton. The future of our public lands is in their hands. 



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