Gale Norton is named to head Interior Department

In a move that likely will spark opposition from environmentalists and some members of Congress, President-elect George W. Bush named former Colorado Atty. Gen. Gale Norton to be secretary of the US Department of Interior.

Norton is described as a pro-choice Republican who is conservative on economic and environmental issues.

She also is named by some environmentalists as a one of the key �anti-environmental� advisors who helped Bush craft a conservative environmental agenda for his campaign.

Before being elected as Colorado�s attorney general in 1991, Norton served four years on the staff of the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, a non-profit legal center that champions the rights of private property ownership and multiple use of federal and state resources through the �wise use� approach to development. That group�s aggressive program to remove restrictions imposed on private landowners through the Endangered Species Act and other environmental legislation has been a thorn in the side of hardcore environmental groups since 1977.

Some regard Norton as a protegee of James Watt, former Interior secretary under President Reagan and the first president of that foundation.

That background could mean that the US oil and gas industry might get at least a friendlier hearing on some of the land-use issues it faces, if Norton is confirmed as the new secretary of Interior.

In a statement issued Friday, Jerry Jordan, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said, �The IPAA commends President-elect Bush on his choice of Gale Norton as secretary of the Interior. Norton was a sound, capable attorney general in Colorado and understands the issues in the West where federal land so dominates access to the natural resource base.�

However, Norton�s background is likely to focus opposition from several environmental groups against her.

Moreover, as Colorado�s attorney general in 1997, Norton was at the forefront of a push for a convention of states to propose an amendment to the US Constitution that would set term limits for members of Congress. That alone may generate some payback opposition during her confirmation hearings.

However, Norton is apparently a savvy politician. In her campaign for reelection as attorney general in 1994, she was Colorado�s biggest vote-getter. But she lost a bid for the US Senate in 1996.

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