Most Corrupt Agencies
DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR
Interior secretary Gale Norton resigns; says department links to an ethics scandal did not influence her decision. She was a big advocate of oil and gas drilling.
By Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger
LOS ANGELES TIMES, March 11, 2006, WASHINGTON -- Gale A. Norton, the Bush administration's leading advocate for expanding oil and gas drilling and other industrial interests in the West, resigned Friday after five years as secretary of the Interior Department.
Norton's departure ends a controversial tenure viewed as largely favorable to energy and mining interests at the expense, critics say, of environmentally sensitive areas and a tradition that used to give more weight to science than politics.
She is leaving amid a Washington ethics scandal that has touched her department: Multiple investigations are examining possible links between Norton's former deputy, J. Steven Griles, and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to defrauding his clients and conspiracy to bribe members of Congress....
A number of environmental groups...applauded the news of Norton's departure.
"She really exemplified the revolving door between the Republicans, industry groups and anti-environmental groups," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which won numerous lawsuits against Norton's department for refusing to designate critical habitat for endangered species. "I expect that government scientists and decision-makers are clapping their hands under their desks."
Under Norton's leadership, some career employees at the Department of the Interior began referring to the western U.S. as "the OPEC states," reflecting the pressure they felt to approve oil and gas permits. during Norton's first three years as secretary, the number of drilling permits issued by the department's Bureau of Land Management soared 70% above the total approved by the Clinton administration.
She also was one of the administration's most fervent advocates for opening up the Arctic national Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration--a goal not yet achieved....
Throughout a 40-minute conference call Friday with reporters, Norton was adamant that she had performed her duties with the best interests of the environment at heart. Reading statistics as she shuffled through papers, the secretary took credit for restoring "millions of acres of land, over 10,000 miles of stream and shoreline" and for spending billions of dollars "improving wildlife habitat and otherwise restoring the environment."
But Norton's critics said her pro-industry actions reflected the priorities of a White House in which senior political advisors had aggressively injected themselves into agency policymaking.
During Bush's first term, for example, the administration created a special White House Office of Energy Permit Expediting, which placed calls to Interior field staffers pressing for approval of oil and gas deals that were viewed as moving too slowly.
During the 2002 election cycle, Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor, reminded Interior Department managers of the importance of farmers to the GOP vote in Oregon, where Republican Sen. Gordon H. Smith was running for reelection. Within months, Norton and officials from other Cabinet agencies approved a diversion of headwaters from the Klamath River to irrigate parched farms. Smith won reelection.
Today, environmentalists, Native American tribes and commercial fishermen blame that water diversion and others under Norton's tenure for a dramatic reduction in the salmon population in the Pacific Northwest.
The Interior Department also reduced the federal government's supervisory role over public lands. For example, the department canceled wilderness protection for 2.5 million acres in Utah and Colorado, much of which was later opened to oil and gas drilling.
Environmental groups contend that the department's Fish and Wildlife Service had voided over 16 million acres of critical habitat for species listed as threatened or endangered. Under Norton, the Interior Department took the position that habitat protection should be largely voluntary....
[In one of its most symbolic controversial actions,] the Interior Department reversed a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park that was scheduled to take effect in 2003 and instead allowed increased usage.
© 2006 Los Angeles Times
By Jim Hightower
WHOLE LIFE TIMES, November, 2003--I thought I was beyond astonishment. I've been to the State Fair twice, I've been embroiled in Texas politics and I've dug into the thievery of Wall Street and Washington...but I've never seen such jaw-dropping stupidity as the latest proposal from George W's interior department.
The boneheads in charge of administering our nation's policies toward the world's endangered species have decided that the way to "save" Asian elephants, Amazon parrots and other species threatened with extinction--is to kill them!
What we have here is more of the ivory tower, laissez-faire bushwa that substitutes for thinking in this corporatized administration. Their assertion is that if America's pet industry, circus companies, fur and skin purveyors and safari firms were able to--ahem--"harvest" a big bunch of these already endangered animals each year, these corporations would pay harvest fees for each animal taken, thus allowing governments in these impoverished countries to funnel the money into better conservation programs for the animals that survive.
It would be akin to letting a crime syndicate pay fees for its own heists so local police could fund crime prevention lectures.
Of course, in the real world, what this harebrained scheme would do is to put a price on the head of every animal, providing an irresistible and uncontrollable market incentive for freelance entrepreneurs to kill, ship and profit from endangered wildlife. Yet, Interior Department officials are pushing blindly and unilaterally ahead with their executive "reinterpretation" of the Endangered Species Act, simply dismissing anyone who protests. As one Bushite scoffed: "There are critics who are going to claim some kind of ulterior motive" to our action.
Yes! The motive is your mindless determination to twist all laws to serve corporate interests. To fight their perversion of this law, call the Animal Welfare Institute at 703-836-4300.
© 2003 Jim Hightower and Associates * Visit www.jimhightower.com
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