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James Watt in a Skirt



Every quadrennial season a new list of words and phrases set the tone for the arc of enlightened opinion and received wisdom. Flaubert started the idea in 1862 of a dictionary of clichs, not to legitimize such nonsense but to satirize it.

This season's list includes everything buttressing the spirit of national elitism, the godly blessings of corporate hegemony, patriotic correctness and hero worship. It also searches for virtuous adverbs that unavailingly attempt to anoint those in high office to the status of demi-god.

One such egg-faced "priestess" is Gale Norton -- perhaps the one poseur best suited for the award of betrayal to her job and the national trust. Never has a federal post been more abused without as much as an attempt at modesty or artful discretion.

In fact corporate operatives "popped champagne" when she arrived. Her rsum reads like a "how-to" in the art of political chicanery. Her political record is easy to follow since, being a former Colorado attorney general, her skill has been mostly about walking "the edges" of professional ethics.

After college Norton lawyered in Denver for "pro-development" interests, which led to a job with the Interior Department in 1985. Her mentor then was James Watt, the notorious Reagan appointee/ anti-environmentalist Interior Secretary.

From 1991 to 1999 she was Colorado's attorney general. She lost the race for U.S. Senate and so wasted no time lobbying for a company being sued for exposing children to poisonous lead paint.

As attorney general she worked to curtail as many wildlife protections on federal lands as possible in the Endangered Species Act. She served on the board of Washington's Legal Foundation and helped found the oxymoron "Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy," financed by the chemical and mining industries.

Prior to that she worked for a Watt-headed anti-regulatory pressure group called the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which spearheaded a lawsuit challenging the Clean Air Act.

Today, she's Bush's hand-picked choice as the first woman to head the Department of Interior. She's the key manipulator of environmental loopholes in Bush's "energy policy," which promotes oil and gas drilling, mining and logging. The DOI controls half the land in 11 of our Western states.

And now Norton has joined forces with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham in "unannounced meetings" to plot tactics for drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge -- even when top geologists report "little oil" there and fear for their own political credibility if forced to proceed. (Abraham himself schmoozed excessively with Enron execs/campaign contributors.)

In October, Norton dropped part of the Clinton administration mining law that prohibited the digging of mines in Western land that could do "irreparable harm." That opened two of Utah's national parks to oil drilling.

Another oxymoron: the DOI's "Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement" (created to impose restrictions on coal/strip mining) is a "front for powerful private interests," according to Robert Gottlieb, a leading DOI critic.

Let's peruse Norton's own appointees: Deputy Secretary Steven Griles (former lobbyist for coal, oil and natural gas); Assistant Secretary for Policy Management Lynn Scarlett (former president of a right-wing think tank opposing government regulation); Assistant Secretary for Land and Mineral Management Rebecca Watson (lobbyist for mining and timber companies). She chose her "advisors" to be two Alaskans who promote Arctic oil drilling. And for her top attorney she appointed William G. Myers III, a lobbyist for the Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Already, a federal judge is considering five counts of "contempt of court" against Norton and some lower appointees in their handling of money long owed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Question: How square in the face do we need to be "smacked" with the stench of betrayal before waking up? How flagrant does it have to get? The DOI was created in 1849 as the "custodian of the nation's natural resources" -- to conserve fish/wildlife habitats, federal/state recreation programs, scenic and historic areas, arid lands, mining "safety," and the welfare of people/territories designated as "reservations."

The DOI is doing everything but its job, led by a premier handmaiden to massive corporate exploitation -- someone who herself describes her appointment as the art of "making loopholes." The DOI and Norton are insults to our national character, and both need to be, shall we say (like much of Congress), "recused."

Richard Hiatt writes from his home in Guffey, Colo.

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