The early reviews are in on the new George W. Bush administration.
It has all the elements of the classic horror story: a predictable
plot, familiar villains and an unshakable sense of déjà
vu. On the following pages, we take a look at Bush's nominees and
appointments, a diverse cast of characters in every way but ideology.
Left to their own devices, this collection of unrepentant cold warriors,
anti-choice extremists, Wise-Use desperados and corporate shills
(as well as a couple of reasonable old-fashioned conservatives)
could make for a harrowing next four years.
Can the forces of good thwart this evil plan? Well, as
In These Times went to press, thousands of townspeople were taking
their torches to Washington to protest Dubya's inauguration, making
one thing clear: There will be no honeymoon!
James Watt in drag. That's how greens are referring
to Gale Norton, George W. Bush's pick to head up the Interior Department.
She certainly has got the resumé to fit the bill: She was
part of the original band of "Colorado crazies" who held the Interior
Department hostage under Reagan.
One of Norton's first jobs was at the Mountain States
Legal Center, an anti-environmental think tank based in Denver and
headed by the bumbling Watt. Founded in 1977, Mountain States was
lavishly underwritten by mining and energy companies as well as
Joseph Coors, that faithful patron of the far right. In return,
Mountain States became a training ground for the Sagebrush Rebels
of the '70s and '80s, spawning the likes of Anne Gorsuch (scandal-plagued
head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Reagan) and her
husband, the late Bob Burford (who handed out huge concessions to
the ranching and mining lobby as head of the Bureau of Land Management).
Then in the '90s, Mountain States helped launch the more militant
The Mountain States agenda is fairly straightforward:
attack environmental laws,
discredit green activists and promote privatization of public lands.
Norton spent four years laboring at Mountain States, where she became
known as a fanatical advocate of property rights. Norton crafted
baroque, and somewhat hare-brained, arguments that the Fifth Amendment
requires the government to pay polluters and clear-cutters not to
violate environmental laws.
Norton's work in this far-fetched region of the law
has borne fruit with a string of rulings in favor of developers
from the federal bench, including a rare opinion written by Justice
Clarence Thomas. Norton's forays into property rights have also
inspired counties throughout the West to pass so-called "custom
and culture" laws, which turn the abuse of public lands into the
equivalent of a property right. The result has been predictable:
a decade of environmental hostage-taking, during which developers,
timber companies and miners have threatened to destroy valuable
wetlands or forests unless they are paid off.
Norton followed Watt to Reagan's Interior Department,
where she served as deputy solicitor. She remained there even after
her mentor was booted back to Colorado in disgrace. In the solicitor's
office, Norton plotted to undo the Endangered Species Act, open
National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies, abet strip miners
along the Rocky Mountain Front and eviscerate wetlands protection.
But Norton's brand of libertarianism isn't a two-way
street. She regards subsidies to individuals--be they small farmers,
poor mothers or grizzly bears--as immoral. Multibillion dollar handouts
to timber companies, transnational gold mining conglomerates and
utilities are, for Norton, just the price of playing politics.
As attorney general of Colorado, Norton could be found
doing legal legwork for nearly every development scheme to hit the
state. Most notably was the Amitas-La Plata project, one of the
last of the big water grabs, a billion-dollar boondoggle that will
destroy a river and sluice water to real estate tycoons outside
Durango. She opposed any move by the feds to reserve water rights
for wilderness areas or endangered fish. She was reluctant to press
mining companies, which have fouled thousands of miles of Colorado
streams with toxic runoff, to clean up their operations. And she
trotted off to Congress to testify in favor of gutting the National
Environmental Policy Act, the nation's premier environmental law.
Like Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft before
her, Norton also cherishes romantic notions about the Confederacy.
In a 1996 speech, Norton compared her struggle to keep the EPA from
enforcing tougher standards on hazardous waste and water quality
in Colorado to that of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It's
worth quoting at length:
I recall, after I had just gone through
this massive battle with the EPA on state sovereignty and states
rights, visiting the East Coast. For the first time, I had the opportunity
to wander through one of those Civil War graveyards. I remember
seeing this column that was erected in one of those graveyards.
It said in memory of all the Virginia soldiers who died in defense
of the sovereignty of their state. It really took me aback. Sure,
I had been filing briefs and I thought that was pretty brave. And
then there were times we looked beyond the substance. When we looked
at the decision-making process. And I understood the 10th Amendment
was part of that separation of powers. It was part of what was supposed
to guarantee that our government would remain limited. What would
guarantee our freedom? Again, we certainly had bad facts in that
case where we were defending state sovereignty by defending slavery.
But we lost too much. We lost the idea that the states were to stand
against the federal government gaining too much power over our lives.
In Norton's view, the war between the states is still
going on. Only this time, the battle lines are in the rural West,
where a new generation of Sagebrush Rebels has taken to open and
violent defiance of federal land managers and environmental laws,
from carving illegal roads into endangered species habitat to planting
bombs in BLM offices to threatening the lives of environmentally
Norton has attached her name to a swath of anti-environmental
outfits, including the Defenders of Property Rights and the Farm
Credit Property Rights Foundation. In 1998, Norton co-founded the
Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, which she said
was intended to push for "free market solutions to environmental
problems." Among Norton's cohorts: Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Helen
Chenoweth and Tom Delay. The group is funded by a who's who of mining,
timber, oil and chemical companies. Greens swiftly dubbed the club
After leaving public office, Norton joined the big
Colorado law firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Strickland, which
represents some of the state's biggest polluters and developers.
But Norton spent much of her time advising Bush on environmental
matters during his campaign. Her theme was "responsible use" of
natural resources, meaning that little, if any, public land should
be set aside from industrial exploitation.
Bush and Norton's transition team for the Interior
Department is a grim slate of industry execs and Washington corporate
lobbyists, including Bruce Benson, CEO of Benson Minerals Group,
who gave Norton $183,000 in her first campaign for attorney general;
Alby Modiano of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association; Henson Moore from
the American Forest and Paper Association; Terry O'Connor from Arch
Coal; Hal Quinn of the National Mining Association; Mark Rubin with
the American Petroleum Institute; and Rob Wallace from General Electric.
Also advising Norton is Terry Anderson, guru of the free-market
environmental faction, who has advocated selling off all federal
The Sierra Club
has launched a $1 million media blitz aimed at "Borking" Norton's
nomination. But some environmentalists wonder if that's money well
spent. "Norton comes into office as sullied as Watt was when he
left," says Tim Hermach, director of the Eugene, Oregon-based Native
Forest Council. "She's already marginalized. If she withdraws,
Bush is likely to put in someone with the same philosophy but with
a gentler demeanor."