- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The Senate yesterday brushed aside intense objections from environmental groups and confirmed President Bush's picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department.

The Senate unanimously approved New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, whose appointment to head the EPA environmentalists called "a Christmas gift to America's polluters," on a 99-0 vote.

Gale A. Norton was confirmed on a 75-24 vote. Green groups had labeled her as "James Watt in a skirt," a reference to President Reagan's Interior secretary, who frequently opposed environmental activists.

Mrs. Norton, the first woman to head the Interior Department, received wide support from Western and Southern Democrats, but was opposed by some Eastern Democrats who want public lands off-limits to development and many types of recreation..

Environmental groups strongly opposed both nominations, but focused most of their attention on Mrs. Norton, former attorney general of Colorado, as an "anti-environmentalist" who would exploit public lands for natural-resources development.

"Some groups have mischaracterized her record … resorted to name-calling and false accusations," said Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican.

"Extreme environmentalists also suggested she cannot be trusted to protect our public lands, but it's not true. Her record demonstrates she values our public lands and will protect it," Mr. Smith said.

"I am both honored and gratified by the strong bipartisan vote of confidence I have received this afternoon," Mrs. Norton said in a statement.

"I look forward also to getting down to work conserving the great wild places and unspoiled landscapes of our exquisite nation," Mrs. Norton said.

"These are the people's lands, and in the administration of President George W. Bush, the people's lands will be protected, managed and rejuvenated for the sake of Americans living today, and for the sake of all the generations of Americans yet to come," Mrs. Norton said.

Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, voted in favor of Mrs. Whitman, but acknowledged to his colleagues on the Senate floor his intention from the outset was to derail her nomination.

"I went in the hearings saying what can we do to show she would do a bad job. I don't proudly say that. Perhaps it was the wrong attitude, but she was able to alleviate any questions I had," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Reid praised Mrs. Whitman's environmental record as governor of New Jersey, saying she set aside significant tracts of land as open space, reclaimed brownfields and cleaned up the state's beaches.

"Syringes and needles used to wash up on shore and people were afraid to go to the beaches, but that is no longer a problem in New Jersey," Mr. Reid said.

Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized environmentalists for employing a negative campaign against Mrs. Norton. Full-page newspaper ads said Mrs. Norton has an "extreme anti-environmental agenda, promotes exploitation, not conservation, and is out of step with mainstream American values."

"Gale Norton's support for self-regulation by polluters and limitations on corporate responsibility for environmental damage, combined with her failure to enforce clean-air and clean-water laws as a state attorney general, lead me to conclude she will seek to limit, evade and perhaps even subvert the tremendous responsibilities that reside in the office of the secretary of the interior," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said Mrs. Norton's philosophy of multiple-use of public lands is "out of the mainstream of thought."

Western senators said Mrs. Norton will combine environmental protection with economic development, and allow more input from local and state governments.

"Unlike many in Washington, she understands that real environmental solutions seldom come from Beltway professionals, they come from real people with honest concerns for the land and the water," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican who also was considered for the Interior post.

"That kind of evenhanded approach to public-land management has been missing for the last eight years, and the West is worse off for it," Mr. Campbell said.

All of Mr. Bush's Cabinet nomination have been confirmed by the Senate, except that of Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft. The Senate began debating Mr. Ashcroft's nomination last night and Republican leaders plan on bringing it to a vote this week.

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