Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2001

Senate Committee Endorses Norton

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gale Norton, whose
nomination by President Bush as interior
secretary prompted sharp protest from
environmentalists, received bipartisan
endorsement Wednesday from a Senate
Committee.

Barring any new, serious revelations, Norton's
confirmation by the full Senate is all but assured.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee voted 18-2 to advance Norton's
nomination with only two Democrats - Sens. Ron
Wyden of Oregon and Charles Schumer of New
York - opposing her.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the panel's
ranking Democrat, acknowledged that ``many
still harbor doubts'' about Norton's past criticism
of the Endangered Species Act and other
environmental laws as well as her views on land
stewardship.

But he said Norton's two days of testimony and
her assurance that she would enforce
environmental laws swayed him to support her
nomination. Most of the other Democrats on the
panel said they concurred with Bingaman's
assessment.

``If I felt we were going to vote for another
James Watt, I wouldn't vote for her in a million
years. But that is not the case,'' said Sen. Byron
Dorgan, D-N.D., referring to the Reagan
administration interior secretary who had gained
the enmity of the environmental community.

Norton, 46, a former attorney general of
Colorado, formerly worked for Watt and shared
many of his views on property rights, criticism of
federal regulations and the shared use of federal
lands for both economic development and
preservation.

Norton distanced herself from Watt during her
confirmation hearing and said at one point, ``I
mean no disrespect to him, but I am my own
person.'' She also said some of her past
comments on states' rights, criticism of federal
regulations and a suggestion that property
owners have the ``right to pollute'' had been
misinterpreted and distorted.

``Some of the things said about her are simply
not correct,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., adding that she too had been convinced
by her testimony and 227 written responses to
questions put by committee members that
Norton should be confirmed.

Wyden said Norton had ``genuinely moved
away'' from some of her past positions such as
arguing that the Endangered Species Act was
unconstitutional. But he said he remained
troubled about damage she might do to the
environment as interior secretary.

``I reluctantly vote no. ... I hope she proves me
wrong,'' said Wyden.

Schumer said Norton does not have ``a balanced
view'' of conservation and development.

President Bush's selection of Norton as interior
secretary attracted bitter opposition from
environmentalists

Critics unleashed a massive research effort into
her past speeches, legal briefs and activities
during her eight years as Colorado attorney
general and while in private practice.

Just before her Senate hearing last week, 18
environmental groups took out newspaper ads
showing an image of half of Norton's face and
declaring that she is ``so far on the fringe'' that
she is ``off the page.''

But Norton's appearance before the committee
was far from confrontational. She acknowledged
being a conservative, but said she also was a
``passionate conservationist'' and that the two
should not be in conflict.

Committee Republicans unanimously came to
her defense, accusing her critics of distorting her
record.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, the committee
chairman, said Norton had been the victim of
``guilt by association'' and unfairly been ``tarred
with innuendoes'' that did not reflect her views.