Bush nominates Norton, Whitman to cabinet posts

Published February 1, 2001

According to many New Era Environmentalists, the partnership of Carol Browner at EPA and Bruce Babbitt at the Interior Department has been a long nightmare for rural Americans, advocates of sound science, and market-based environmental policies.

Browner’s EPA has resisted every effort to subject the agency’s science to outside peer review or to use cost-benefit analysis to prioritize the nation’s clean-up effort. Babbit, for his part, has led a war on rural America by advancing policies that have closed off millions of acres of public land to recreation, private ownership, and commercial development.

Little surprise, then, that New Era Environmentalists greeted warmly news of President George W. Bush’s picks for these two key positions in his cabinet.

Fans of Gale Norton, nominated for Secretary of the Interior, and Christine Todd Whitman, nominated for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, say if you wanted to find two people capable of reversing the downward spiral created by the previous administration, you would find it difficult to do better than this.

Gale Norton at Interior

Gale Norton, 46, is an attorney whose involvement with environmental issues began with Mountain States Legal Foundation, a Denver-based public interest law firm founded by James Watt before he became Reagan’s Interior Secretary. She went to work for the U.S. Agriculture Department in 1984 before being named assistant solicitor for conservation and wildlife at the Interior Department. While at Interior, she worked without success to allow responsible oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

In 1990 Norton became the first woman elected Attorney General of the state of Colorado, a position she held for eight years. She has been an outspoken advocate of granting states, localities, and even private corporations a greater voice in environmental decisions that under Democratic leadership have been mostly the preserve of the federal government.

Matti Albright, who served as Norton’s deputy in Colorado, told New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl, “Gale believes very much that less regulation is better and that the best control is at the lowest level of government possible.”


Norton’s appointment has met with unanimous approval from free market environmental groups. Alan Foutz, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, told the Rocky Mountain News, “We are very pleased to have a private property rights and personal freedom supporter in a position to balance the needs of conservation and management of public lands.”

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas told E&CN, “Gale Norton is one of our country’s brightest women leaders.” Hutchison “looks forward to working with her in protecting our environment and bringing balance to the Department of Interior.”

Conversely, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Los Angeles Times that “Norton’s record sends shivers down our spines,” and Alyssondra Campaigne of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Washington Post that Norton’s appointment was “a real slap in the face for the majority of Americans who want our parks and public lands protected from exploitation by well-financed mining, oil, and other polluting industries.”

Whitman at EPA

Governor Whitman appears to make a good partner with Norton because of her strong moderate leadership in the now-liberal state of New Jersey. Whitman is a tough, no-nonsense manager who can take the heat and keep on kicking. She inherited a set of extremely stringent state environmental regulations and implemented them with reason, objectivity, and diplomacy.

Whitman is not a conservative and will yield to many still-unnecessary demands of the ultra-green advocates, but on balance she will turn the ship that is EPA from environmental radicalism to environmental realism.

Whitman’s worst deficiency is her lack of scientific training or expertise, leaving her prone to unrealistic demands of environmental advocates preying upon her technical inexperience. President Bush suffers from the same malady, but it is curable. Intelligent members of the Bush team with scientific credentials will have access to Whitman and advance her education in the environmental arena.

Whitman’s toughest job will be to march into EPA and begin ridding this out-of-control agency of the most radical of its 18,000 employees. She will need to pare down a bloated budget currently used largely to chase ever-smaller concentrations of contaminants in our environment. She appears to recognize that the job of protecting our environment is never over, but the heavy lifting has been accomplished in the past 30 years. Chasing parts per trillion (the equivalent of a second in 32,000 years) makes no sense ecologically or economically.

Whitman’s moderate stands on many issues have made her the target of some criticism among conservatives, but perhaps the ideal nominee for the incoming Bush administration. It is difficult to imagine a more conservative or market-oriented candidate for the EPA position winning approval in the evenly divided Senate. More likely, a more conservative candidate would have been endlessly demonized by radical environmental groups, whose charges would have been amplified by a gullible media.

The consensus of New Era Environmentalists, at least initially, is to provide support to the Norton-Whitman team and hope that, at long last, the nightmare of the Clinton-Gore years is finally coming to an end.