Bush's Interior choice makes property rights paramount
By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Gale Norton, President-elect Bush's choice to
head the Interior Department, once suggested that government
recognize property owners' ``right to pollute'' and that they be
compensated for losses when forced to protect the environment.
Norton's staunch support of property rights and ties to industry
has prompted opposition from environmentalists, who argue she is
ill-suited to head the agency charged with stewardship of 500
million acres of federal land, rescuing endangered species and
managing the nation's parks.
After serving from 1991 to 1999 as Colorado's attorney general,
Norton has been in private law practice in Colorado. She is viewed
widely as intelligent and personable, with a willingness to seek out
compromise, but has demonstrated an overriding belief that the less
federal involvement in people's lives the better.
Over the years she has urged a broad interpretation of the
``taking'' of property by the government, advocating that landowners
be paid for losses incurred through government regulations that
limit use of their land to protect wetlands or endangered species.
Linking environmental protection to compensation has been a flash
point for environmentalists. The Clinton administration has argued
that compensation requirements would chill environmental enforcement
since government payments could become enormous.
Recognizing such a potential, Norton told a 1989 law symposium,
``I view that as something positive.''
Then a senior fellow at the conservative Pacific Research
Institute, Norton said compensation ``provides fairness to the
person who is harmed by ... government action'' and causes
bureaucrats to examine what effect their regulations will have on
Another approach, she argued, was to assume a ``reasonable right
to use our property. ... We might even go so far as to recognize a
homesteading right to pollute or make noise in an area.'' The
remarks were later published by a conservative Harvard law journal.
``Norton's absolutist views on property rights and her hostility
to environmental protection places her far outside the mainstream of
even conservative legal scholarship,'' said Douglas Kendell, an
attorney for Community Rights Counsel, a Washington-based
environmental advocacy law firm.
Nevertheless, her views have won her strong support from industry
advocates, land rights groups and most GOP conservatives. They call
her approach to land stewardship and free-market environmentalism a
welcome change from what they view as heavy-handed dictates from
Washington in the Clinton years.
``She will bring a balanced approach ... to multiple use
management of federal public lands,'' said Laura Skaer, executive
director of the Northwest Mining Association, a trade group based in
A protege of James Watt, the controversial Interior secretary in
the Reagan administration, Norton over the years has been a frequent
and outspoken supporter of more local, state and private involvement
in crafting the nation's environmental programs.
``She believes the laws of the United States apply to departments
of the federal government as well,'' said former Sen. Malcolm
Wallop, a Wyoming Republican who now heads Frontiers of Freedom, a
conservative advocacy group heavily involved in Western land issues.
With an ally on property rights at Interior, Republicans in
Congress are likely to revive the debate over compensation in
connection with wetlands and endangered species legislation,
``You're going to see a convergence of the perfect storm on
property rights,'' predicts Donald Barry, an executive vice
president of the Wilderness Society and former assistant secretary
for fish and wildlife in the Clinton administration.
But in Norton, don't expect another Watt, who once barred the
Beach Boys from performing at the Fourth of July festivities on the
Mall. ``Watt was very much in your face,'' Barry said. ``She's going
to be pleasant. She's going to be polite.''
It was Watt who in 1979 hired Norton, then a young attorney just
out of the University of Denver, at the Mountain States Legal
Foundation, an advocacy group that fought the legal battles of the
``Sagebrush'' rebellion against Washington bureaucrats. The
foundation has filed numerous lawsuits against Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt's land management policies over the past eight years.
As Colorado's attorney general, Norton also often clashed with
Washington over automobile inspections to cut air pollution and over
a Colorado law that allowed companies to escape sanctions if they
voluntarily reported pollution problems and fixed them.
``This is a battle where we are still very much in the
trenches,'' she declared in a 1996 speech. She berated Washington
for threatening the state ``because we had the audacity to adopt
something in the environmental area that we in Colorado think makes
sense, but the federal government doesn't agree.''
In the same speech before the Independence Institute, a
Denver-based free-market think tank, she compared the struggles
between states and Washington to the Cold War.
``Just as free markets triumphed over communism,'' Norton said,
``we are in a time ... when we can be part of the intellectual
battle that shift power from Washington back to states and local
(PROFILE (CAT:Legal;) (CAT:Philanthropy;) (SRC:AP; ST:US;) )