The Knives Are Out For Norton

By Alan Caruba

If you think the nomination hearings for John Ashcroft as the next Attorney General will be bruising, just wait for the hearing when Gale Norton, president-elect Bush’s choice for Interior Secretary, faces her opposition.

The January 2nd USA Today headline said, “Norton is longtime friend of property rights.” If there is one thing that environmentalists hate, it is property rights and it is the reason that out-going President Clinton has, in his final days, worked to deny the use of more than sixty million acres of the nation’s landmass. Behind this effort has been one of the most radical members of his Cabinet, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Norton, a former attorney general for Colorado (1991-98) has served as an associate solicitor at the US Department of the Interior, directing the legal staff of the National Park Service, and was assistant to the deputy secretary of Agriculture, both during the late 1980’s. From 1979 to 1983, she had worked at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a major proponent of the “wise use” movement that favors environmental protection, but is deeply committed to strengthening property rights.

In brief, “wise use” is about the need for this nation to utilize its vast reserves of timber, coal, oil, gas, and other national resources. They also favor the use of public lands for recreation that includes hunting, fishing, camping and motorized-vehicle use. The Interior Department oversees and regulates more than 400 million acres of federal land, largely in the West.

Norton’s nomination quickly drew praise from groups that include the American Land Rights Association, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Citizens for Constitutional Property Rights, and the League of Private Property Voters, among many others.

It is her enemies, however, that tell you everything you need to know about the objectives of the Greens. Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, called her nomination “a declaration of war on the environment.” Alhyssondra Campaigne of the Natural Resources Defense Council called it “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.” Karl Marx could not have said it better.

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said, “Norton’s record sends shivers down our spine” citing her opposition of regulations “designed to protect the public lands.”

These multi-million dollar environmental groups have been calling the shots at Interior during the Clinton-Babbitt years, finding ways to shut off this nation’s access to billions of dollars of natural resources needed for energy independence along with the jobs and taxes generated when minerals of every description can be mined, oil extracted and refined, and trees can be harvested. The Greens have never met a rancher, farmer or private forest owner whose land they would not seize in a hot minute.

Here’s what Norton has said: “Innovative environmental policies come about when the states can act as laboratories of democracy. Furthermore, the states are important in the Federal/state environmental partnership because there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all government. The states, where government is closer to the people, are the proper entities to implement environmental laws and policies.”

This is precisely what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the Tenth Amendment. It says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” You can search the Constitution for the word “environment” and never find it. You will, however, find prohibitions against depriving people of their property “without due process of law.”

Neither the States, nor the people, particularly in Western States, have had much to say about the Clinton mania for “a legacy” based on depriving Americans of access to and the use of their own lands. The Federal government owns about one quarter of the entire landmass of the nation, when you add military bases and other property to that of the national forests and parks.

The selection of Gale Norton signals a major shift in policy and the Greens know it. The time has arrived at last to begin the long process of undoing the damage inflicted by the feckless Clinton Administration.

Alan Caruba is the founder of The National Anxiety Center, a clearinghouse for information about scare campaigns designed to influence public opinion and policy. The Center maintains an Internet site at

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.