- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Drilling for oil in Alaskas arctic may be a dead issue in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but that has not stopped the Bush administration from putting two leading proponents of drilling in charge of the states federal lands.

Camden Toohey, former executive director of Arctic Power, will serve as special assistant to the secretary for Alaska, said Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton.

"Camden Toohey is a true son of the great state of Alaska," Mrs. Norton said.

"In many ways, his experience growing up in a mining camp, being home-schooled, racing sled dogs and managing a family owned business gives him a broad perspective on the wide array of challenges we face as stewards of Alaska´s public lands," Mrs. Norton said in making the announcement Saturday while visiting Anchorage.

Drue Pearce, who served as a board member of Arctic Power and as a lobbyist for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., a company that has lobbied for drilling, has been appointed senior adviser to Mrs. Norton for Alaskan affairs. Arctic Power is a nonprofit organization that supports oil and gas development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It was organized in 1992 to expedite congressional and presidential approval of oil production.

Mrs. Norton praised Miss Pearce´s environmental and energy work and said she will provide valuable guidance.

Both will help manage Alaska´s 270 million acres of federal land, including the wildlife refuge where President Bush is pushing for oil exploration.

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican and ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the appointments show "the personal dedication and sensitivity of President Bush and Secretary Norton to work with Alaskans in a reasonable, open manner."

The announcement of Mr. Toohey´s appointment angered Capitol Hill Democrats, while environmental groups blasted both as "the most obvious indicators of the oil industry´s lock on the White House," said Adam Kolton, spokesman for the Alaska Wilderness League.

Democrats said the appointment gives Arctic Power the position and power to carry out its goal.

"This appointment, which places a lobbyist for the oil industry in charge of our public lands in Alaska, is breathtaking in its arrogance towards the public interest, and a new low point for the Bush administration," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The Bush administration seems completely insensitive to the conflict of interest inherent in this appointment," Mr. Markey said. "It is an ethical oil spill that will taint every environmental decision the Interior Department makes concerning our public lands during Gale Norton´s tenure as secretary."

A spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the nomination "doesn´t sound good for Alaska."

"Someone whose principal job is to lobby on behalf of drilling in ANWR, to have them nominated to this position, really speaks for the priorities at the Department of Interior," said spokesman Nathan Naylor.

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