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Interior Secretary Gale Norton Defends the Bush Administration's Environmental Policy

Aired July 5, 2001 - 19:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has a long and distinguished record of doing the right thing.



SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: Her record indicates that she may not be able to enforce environmental protections and ensure the preservation of our public lands.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is uniquely qualified to be the next secretary of the interior.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gale Norton has devoted her life to undermining the mission of the agency she has been nominated to lead.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, who is Gale Norton?


NOVAK: We'll try to answer that question as the senator of the interior, Gale Norton, steps into the CROSSFIRE.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. This is CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush faced a tough decision with family repercussions. As part of his energy plan, he wanted to drill for oil off the Florida coast. But brother Jeb Bush, as part of his plan to get re-elected governor of Florida, wanted no drilling at all. So the president split the difference.

As announced by Secretary Norton this week, new oil drilling will be kept 100 miles from the Florida shore. Predictably, it didn't satisfy anybody.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida called it "the camel's nose under the tent." Senator John Breaux of Louisiana called it "a sad commentary for a balanced energy policy."

Neither friend nor foe expected Gale Norton would be announcing compromises when she became one of George W. Bush's most fiercely opposed Cabinet choices and was confirmed by a 75-to-24 vote of the Senate.

She was a protege of controversial Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt as an attorney for the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation. After working in the Interior Department under Republican presidents, Ms. Norton was twice elected to attorney general of Colorado.

Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Secretary Norton, welcome to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Thank you for coming in.

Let's start talking about Florida. When this decision was announced earlier last week, you were proud to say it was your decision. But Governor Jeb Bush of Florida told CNN, quote, "In the end it was my brother that made the decision."

So let's be honest here: The only reason that George Bush scaled back the drilling off the coast of Florida is because his little brother Jeb raised holy hell. Isn't that the truth?

NORTON: There are very strong feelings throughout the state of Florida about the issue of drilling, and we had to look at both Florida's views. I talked personally with the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama about what we ought to be doing. And in the end, I think we reached a reasonable compromise between the views.

PRESS: But isn't it true that this decision would never have been made if the president's brother were not the governor of Florida?

NORTON: What we've said in our approaches to environmental issues across-the-board is that we want to have more local input, local involvement on issues, that we welcome the views of the those whose lives are most affected by our decisions and who want to have a collaborative process.

PRESS: Well, now, this was painted, as you know, a big pro- environmental decision on the part of the Bush administration. But the truth is that oil platforms won't be 17 miles off the coast, but they'll be 100 miles off the coast. They're still a threat to the environment, they're still a threat to the coastline. They're still a threat to the tourism industry. So this is still a big oil decision, and it's anti-environment, isn't it?

NORTON: Our production record off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico has been an excellent one. Over the more than 50 years that offshore production has been taking place, we've seen the technology improve. Today, there is 150 times as much natural seepage of oil into the ocean as there is from any of the production platforms put together. And so it's a very environmentally safe approach.

We felt that it was a good idea to take into account the views of the state of Florida, but I believe that we can go forward in a very environmentally responsible way.

NOVAK: Madame Secretary, contrary to the fulminating by my friend Bill Press, the -- the conservative community, people who elected President Bush, and rejoiced at your nomination are very disappointed in you, typified by this decision to retreat on oil drilling. And one of the leaders in the business community said that they think you're too worried about what "The New York Times" thinks of you. Is that true?

NORTON: I want to be sure that we are taking views into account, but I don't make my decisions based on winning any kind of popularity contest. The decision of secretary -- or the position of secretary of the interior is one that inherently requires that you get in the middle of controversies and make decisions that are going to be unpopular with someone.

And so I'd never come into this job thinking that I was going to make everybody happy. That just doesn't happen.

NOVAK: Maybe -- I don't want to ask the same question Bill asked, but it is about the same thing from a different direction. I agree with you that the techniques in the Gulf, as Senator Breaux of Louisiana pointed out, are very refined. There's not really any environmental damage. The only reason for having -- eliminating the drilling to 100 miles away is Florida politics, isn't it? Isn't that the only possible reason why you would make that retreat?

NORTON: We want to take into account local views. The president said even as he was campaigning that the views of local citizens on offshore drilling should be taken into account. He didn't want to go forward in areas that had -- that did not have the support of local communities.


NOVAK: I take that as a -- I take that as a yes then.


PRESS: Madame Secretary, you are in the process of trying to get an undersecretary for the department. Now, as I see this administration, OK, there's the president and the vice president, they're both from big oil. Here you are interior secretary: As Bob indicated earlier, Mountain States Legal Foundation, fighting for the loggers and for the miners and for the ranchers. And now as your deputy, you've nominated, the president has at your request, a man by the name of Stephen Griles. And here's what "The National Journal" says of him.

"He returns to the department" -- assuming he's confirmed -- "returns to the department after 11 years of working for the petroleum and the mining interests."

I mean, isn't there room for one environmental activist in your whole team? Does everybody have to be from big business?

NORTON: Steve Griles is someone with an excellent reputation for finding solutions to difficult problems. I worked with him when I was at the Democratic of Interior in the past. I was very impressed by his ability to roll up his sleeves and make sure that we reached reasonable solutions to things.

He has an excellent record of having worked on conservation issues. He began his career in working as a regulator. He's worked in government for many years in regulating and in ensuring that environmental laws are complied with.

PRESS: But here's the problem. I mean, he says he believes in multiple use of public lands. That means he supports drilling, he supports logging, he supports mining on public lands, some public lands. So do you. You said that, multiple use.

I ask you: Who is there to say stay out of the parks, stay out of the monuments? I don't see any voice in this administration who is 100 percent environment.

NORTON: Multiple use of public lands is exactly what the law requires in most of our public lands, and there we do want to use those lands. When you talk about parks, that's something entirely different. The vast majority of our public lands are areas that are currently used for grazing, for forestry, for the kinds of uses that we have throughout the West.

One out of every four acres of land in this country is owned by my department, and that is clearly not just park land. It's not just the crown jewels.

We want to preserve and protect the wonderful crown jewels that we have in this country, and I feel very strongly that we should do that. Our wilderness areas should be protected from humans doing more than just visiting as -- as other parts of the environment.

PRESS: Including ANWR? NORTON: ANWR, the coastal plain area, is one that for the last 20 years has been designated as a future, potential spot for oil and gas development. It has never been a wilderness area. It is a refuge area. We have...

NOVAK: Just for the...

NORTON: ... oil and gas and...

NOVAK: Just for those -- just for those (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we're talking about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

NORTON: Yes, that's correct.


NORTON: That's what ANWR stands for.

NOVAK: Secretary Norton, the -- I want to get back to the Griles appointment. It's a pretty blatant power play, since the Democrats control the Senate. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says he would not permit Mr. Griles to be confirmed as deputy secretary so long as this -- this drilling question in the -- off of Florida were in play.

Now that you have to a certain extent compromised on that, have you heard anything from Senator Nelson, whether he's going to let that confirmation go through?

NORTON: Well, I would hope that the fact that there are no plans to produce now anything that can be called Florida waters -- for the most part, it's over 200 miles off of most of the Florida coast.

NOVAK: Have you heard from him whether that's enough?

NORTON: Have not heard specifically from him. I hope that he will be receptive.

NOVAK: He -- he seldom succeeds. But recently, we had the spectacle of farmers up in Oregon, Klamath Falls, with chainsaws unlocking irrigation devices so they could get some water for their land: 200,000 acres, I believe, dry because of a judge's decision to protect salmon and sucker fish.

You know, I think the definition of environmentalist, Bill, is somebody who thinks sucker fish is more important than people. They have appealed to you...

PRESS: Save the sucker fish, that's our motto.

NOVAK: ... to convene something called the "God Squad," which is a high-level body to determine an appeal on this endangered species. What is your feeling about what is happening in Oregon right now?

NORTON: Well, I have not yet received any formal petition to convene a god squad. It was frankly very difficult for us to -- to have to tell 1,400 farm families that they would get no matter this year, that they would not be able to...

NOVAK: But you can overturn that, can't you?

NORTON: We decided as we looked at the situation facing us this year that we would abide by the Endangered Species Act, that we would go forward with saying there was no water available for any people. It went for the fish.

NOVAK: Doesn't that bother you?

NORTON: It's something that we're working to try to solve for the long term. I think there are ways of finding creative solutions so that we can both protect the fish and have water available for agriculture.

NOVAK: But these people get no relief from you, you don't think, through this god squad, if this is convened, that can overturn the previous decisions.

NORTON: Well, as I've said, that has not been presented to me.

NOVAK: That's possible?

NORTON: That's something that we would have to consider if that were proposed. But I certainly do think that there -- there are creative solutions, and that's what we want to look for.

PRESS: Well, I want to ask you about some of the decisions that have already been made. The decision, as announced, that you want to drill up in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the decision that you are going to drill off the coast of Florida even if it's 100 miles out, the decision that we are going to reverse...

NORTON: It's entirely in Alabama.


PRESS: ... reverse on the regulation of CO2, that decision that you're going to abandon the Kyoto treaty, the decision that you're going to challenge the Clinton regulations on mining and logging, the decision that you're not going to put an emphasis on energy conservation, that decision that you are...

NORTON: That's -- wait...

PRESS: ... questioning again whether or not to put -- the level of arsenic in drinking water. All of those. Can you name me one decision made by this administration where you stood up and went against the big corporations, went against the oil companies?

NORTON: We are providing more funding for the national parks, trying to take care of our parks and our crown jewels that you were mentioning earlier than any other administration has ever done.

We're really trying to correct -- correct the problems there. We have a landowner incentive program, as part of the president's budget, that would encourage farmers and ranchers and other landowners to protect endangered species on their property, to be creative in the ways that they protect endangered species.

We are working very hard to see that creative approaches to dealing with environmental issues will come to the fore, and our energy plan that you talked about, more than half of the proposals in that plan dealt with conservation, dealt with environmental protection measures. Those are very strong parts of our energy proposal.

PRESS: OK, Madame Secretary, a lot more questions about energy and property rights. When we come back, we'll continue our debate with Interior Secretary Gale Norton. More CROSSFIRE coming up.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

National parks, offshore drilling, endangered species, mining and logging on public lands, wetlands protection, none of them easy issues, but all of them are on the plate of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, President Bush's point person on the environment. She joins us tonight as our special guest on CROSSFIRE -- Bob.

NOVAK: Madame Secretary, to hear the chattering class in Washington talk, you would think that the energy program of the president has been absolutely rejected by the American people, but our own poll, CNN/"USA Today/Gallup poll -- certainly not a Republican poll -- says that favor 38 percent, oppose 32 percent, unsure 30 percent.

That would seem that there is -- that the public -- jury is out, the public hasn't made up its mind on the plan. Do you have any plans to sell it for this unsure jury, this undecided jury?

NORTON: Well, we certainly do think that the American public should be focusing on energy issues and talking about those. It's a long-term debate, and we are talking about things, we are getting the message across. I'm spending a lot of my time talking to people about energy issues.

NOVAK: Well, the thing that occurs to me is that there is a plot by the left to change the way Americans live to -- so that we don't have big cars and we don't have big homes, we all live in tents with windmills.


Do you agree with that? And if you, why don't you say so?

NORTON: Well, not quite ready for tents with windmills. I think that there's a real disconnect between people's desires to have energy, to maintain our standard of living, to have jobs and to heat their homes, and the idea...

NOVAK: Drive -- drive gas-running cars.

NORTON: ... absolutely, yes -- and the idea that the energy has to come from someplace. And so because we are really focusing on the fact that you have to have energy come from someplace, we've been getting into the controversy of it. But I think you have to face those tough questions.

PRESS: Personally, I do want Bob to take off his three-piece suit and put on an animal skin.


That's what I'm working for. But Bob started with a poll. Let me -- let me start with one, too, Madame Secretary, which doesn't show that you're doing so well.

ABC News/"Washington Post" just a month ago: Do you approve of the job that President Bush is doing on the environment? Approve, only 41 percent; disapprove, 50 percent.

Now, let's move to the United States Congress. The House of Representatives voted 265 to 157 against your plan to drill for oil in the Great Lakes. The House voted 247 to 164 against your plan to drill for oil off the coast of Florida. And there were 47 Republicans who joined the Democrats in voting against your plan for logging, drilling or mining in the national monuments.

You are losing among the public and your own Republicans in the House of Representatives.

NORTON: And you're explaining one of the reasons why. We don't even have a proposal to drill in the Great Lakes. We don't have...

PRESS: They voted against it in the House. Tell your Republican members of Congress.

NORTON: They voted against something that the state is talking about, not against anything that the federal government has proposed.

Similarly, the idea of drilling in national monuments -- that's not something that we have proposed. There are some people who are unsatisfied with monument designations who have talked about that and suggested that, but we don't have any current proposals to do that.

And so a lot I think of the problem is one of perception, and there are some things that we're working on that we view as very positive. We want to have energy and environment taken care of through a thoughtful process of trying to solve problems.

PRESS: Well, let me ask you about a real problem: property rights, something that you have worked for, protecting property rights as a proud citizen of the West. In this -- your administration's energy plan wants to expand the concept of eminent domain, which now -- where the federal government has now, they can seize land for pipelines. To expand that -- they could also seize land for power lines. I mean, can you as a defender of property rights support that basic federal land grab?

NORTON: Handled responsibly, quote comfortably, because the idea of eminent domain, government taking property, is for public uses with the idea that having some types of things like roadways, like transmission lines and things like that, that really can't be done all on one person's property, that require putting together long rights of way, that's an appropriate approach for...

PRESS: The Western Governors Association -- you used to work for them -- they're fiercely opposed to this.

NORTON: That's in part because they want the states to exercise that. This is something that FERC already has the jurisdiction to do for some types of energy rights of way. This is simply expanding that to other energy rights of way.

NOVAK: Secretary Norton, to follow up on Bill's question, some of the conservatives feel that you are moving toward more land acquisition for the federal government through your policies. Government now owns 30 percent of the land in the West. Is that correct?

NORTON: Actually in the entire country.

NOVAK: In the country. In the country, yes. But of course...

NORTON: And most of it's in the West.

NOVAK: Yes, most of it is in the West. Do you think 30 percent is enough or would you like to see it higher?

NORTON: Well, when you look at states like Arizona, for example, if you look at the land that's owned by government -- federal, state, tribal governments -- only 12 percent is owned by the private sector. For many of the Western states, there are huge amounts...

NOVAK: Well, what's the answer...

NORTON: ... of federal ownership.

NOVAK: What's the answer to my question? Is that enough federal land?

NORTON: I think that's enough federal land, but we are still trying to make sure that we have the right federal land. And so we're doing some things in Nevada, for example -- they're selling some federal land that's right around Las Vegas and acquiring other sensitive habitats, areas that need federal-type protection.

NOVAK: I've got just one minute left, and I want to give a very tough question: Since the Congress keeps voting against any kind of drilling or against drilling in Alaska, against drilling off the coast, what do you tell them? You've got to have more oil. Do you say just import, import, import? What do you say to the anti-drilling Republicans as well as Democrats? NORTON: We have to talk about the concern of dependence on foreign energy, about where we are in the long run as our increase of foreign dependence has been continuing.

It's a tough choice, but as we talk about these issues we have to face those tough choices.

We're also looking at conservation. We're looking at proposals to diminish the demand side of energy. And in the long run, we have to focus on some of the tough questions.

NOVAK: But no -- no windmills please. No -- no windmills.

NORTON: Oh, yes, we want wind power, too.

PRESS: Yes, windmills.

NOVAK: Oh, you know me.

PRESS: More windmills.

NOVAK: OK. Secretary Gale Norton, thank you very much.

NORTON: Thank you.

NOVAK: And green Bill Press and I will be back with closing comments.


PRESS: Bob, I know people like you would like to drill for oil in the Grand Canyon, but you know, I think you and the Bush administration continue to underestimate the support of the American people for saving the environment. I mean, it's real, and it's Democrats and Republicans.

NOVAK: Ask people, do you want to save the environment? Sure. Do you want to save your mother-in-law? Sure. But the question is, do they also want to save their way of life, which is big cars, big homes, no windmills, no alternative power. And the answer (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They have to drill, and that's the lesson that the Bush administration should be preaching and they're not preaching it hard enough.

PRESS: Well, they're not preaching it hard -- they're preaching it too hard as far as I'm concerned. It's not just drill, drill, drill, Bob. Windmills do work. Solar does work, Bob.

NOVAK: The bush people are in between us, in the middle of the road right now on this issue, and I tell you what. You know what happens to people in the middle of the road? They get squashed.

PRESS: They get run over. Bob, they're not in the middle of the road. They're way over it, your side.

NOVAK: Not as far as I am. PRESS: From the left...


Who is? I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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