- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

Interior Secretary designee Gale Norton's controversial Senate confirmation has broken the mold of her heavy caricature stereotyping by environmental extremists and revealing her true character as a conservative conservationist.

In perhaps her most telling line during last week's hearings, Mrs. Norton told the assembled senators, "I am both a conservative and a conservationist. I see no conflict there. In fact, I am a compassionate conservative and a passionate conservationist."

Mrs. Norton countered the Sierra Club's scurrilous accusation that she is little more than 'James Watt in a skirt,' telling the committee, "I am my own person." She said that she did not believe in a right to pollute, and repeatedly told the committee that she would enforce existing environmental laws, claiming, "I intend to make the conservation of America's natural treasures my top priority."

Just as importantly, Mrs. Norton suggested that she would transform the Clinton administration's 'confiscate-designate' approach to public lands into cooperation and collaboration between all levels of government. While lauding Clinton administration's goal of protecting public lands, she expressed her concern that "Many of those decisions were made through a top-down process without consulting the people who are most affected by those decisions," adding, "I would certainly hope that in the future we would hear input from those of you on this committee, from governors, from local communities before we take actions that are going to deeply impact people's lives."

Mrs. Norton hinted that she could reconfigure the Clinton administration's adversarial relationship with the individuals and entities in the private sector by expressing her belief that they too could be responsive to environmental concerns. She told the committee that she would be happy to bring together environmental groups and industry interests to find equitable solutions for the preservation of endangered species. Her success with environmental self-audits in Colorado also speaks well to her ability to meet environmental goals through collaboration with companies.

Mrs. Norton intimated that she would attempt to reclaim rationality in resource decisions. Instead of rushing to judgment on global warming or the environmental impact of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Mrs. Norton simply promised to rely on the best available scientific evidence. In doing so, she made the subtle suggestion that neither lawyers nor legislators should approach the bench before scientists working there have produced conclusive results.

Throughout her confirmation hearing, Mrs. Norton gave convincing evidence of her ability to offer a conservative counterreformation to the confiscatory excesses of the Clinton administration.

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