Earth Shakers: The Counter-Enviro Power List

Gale Norton: Secretary of the Interior

May 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

Norton doesn't breathe fire in the style of onetime mentor James Watt—the Reagan-era Interior secretary who tu- tored her in the late seventies at Colorado's Mountain States Legal Foundation, an important center of antiregulatory lawsuits. But no one should underestimate Norton's impact. Since her 2001 appointment as Interior secretary, a post that gives her command over 507 million acres of public land, the Denver-raised 51-year-old has aggressively campaigned to open up large swaths of territory for oil exploration. Norton argued in favor of lifting a moratorium on offshore drilling in California, advocated for drilling in ANWR, and, in September 2004 alone, auctioned off nearly 360,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management country in southern Utah and made 8.8 million acres of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve available to oil and gas developers.

Norton is also pushing to allow off-road vehicles into wilderness study areas and national forests. As with most issues on Norton's agenda, the ORV changes stem from her belief that public lands should not be restricted to activities like hiking, hunting, and fishing but instead governed by policies that afford equal access to everyone.

SOUND BITE: "Norton has been a success because she's kept her head down," says Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "From her Washington power base she is methodically and strategically changing the landscape of the West forever."

NEXT UP: Norton commissioned Water 2025, a sweeping proposal designed to mitigate the West's water-rights issues and worsening drought. So far, enviros have had a hard time finding flaws in the proposal, which offers grants to companies that are developing new technology to improve the efficiency of water usage, includes financial incentives to farmers who buy water-saving irrigation equipment, and provides a system for property owners to buy and sell surplus water. Some, like Thomas Graff, a regional director for Environmental Defense, have touted it as a "real achievement" and say it's a long-needed revamping of the West's water policies.

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