TU's Statement on the Nomination of Gale Norton for Interior Secretary
1/18/2001 -- -- Contact: Steve Malloch, Counsel: (703) 284-9415 Steve Moyer, Vice President for Conservation Programs: (703) 284-9406
On January 18, 2001, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin its examination of the nomination of Gale Norton to be Secretary of the Interior. Trout Unlimited spent considerable time assessing Ms. Norton's record to understand the likely effect of her leadership on the valuable trout and salmon resources under the Department's jurisdiction, resources about which TU's 125,000 members care deeply.
The Secretary of the Interior is the principal steward of the nation's natural resources. Ms. Norton's record, as well as our direct experience with her tenure as Attorney General in Colorado, leaves us with serious concerns and questions about her approach toward the resources that would be entrusted to her.
Ms. Norton is an ardent supporter of private property and states' rights. As Attorney General she opposed federal actions to protect resources held in trust for the people of the entire United States. How will she act as Secretary of the Interior?
- Will she fully and faithfully implement the Endangered Species Act? Or will her support of private property and states' rights undermine protecting species threatened with extinction?
- Will she secure and protect water rights for National Parks and federal reserves? Or will she bow to private and state pressures opposed to federal water rights?
- Will she aggressively seek funding needed to carry out responsibilities that are critical to the nation's fish and wildlife resources? Or will she use funding cuts as a weapon to reduce conservation efforts?
- Will she vigorously protect and restore trout and salmon habitat on the public lands administered by the Interior Department, some of the world's best remaining habitats? Or will she instead subordinate habitat needs to grazing, mining, timber, and agricultural interests that use federal lands?
We urge the Committee to ask these questions and seek comprehensive answers for them.
TU and its members have a critical stake in the affairs of the Interior Department. Our mission is to conserve, protect and restore the nation's trout and salmon resources and the watersheds upon which they depend. Our individual members, local chapters, state councils, and staff constantly work with agencies of the Interior Department to conserve trout and salmon nationwide.
We respect property rights and appreciate the pivotal role of states in managing natural resources. Our members and staff respect the rights of landowners and accomplish amazing habitat conservation work nationwide, from partnering with a timber company in California, to ranchers in the Intermountain West, to Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. We work with state fisheries and water quality agencies every day on trout and salmon conservation projects.
We expect that, as Secretary, Ms. Norton would encourage her Department to continue working with local, state and national interests to promote conservation. Working cooperatively with state and private interests is a necessary part of good stewardship. However, those efforts will fall far short of her responsibilities to the people of the United States unless the Secretary aggressively seeks adequate funding to carry out those responsibilities. They will also fall short without staunch and aggressive use of federal authorities in implementing federal resource protection law, and conserving resources on the property of the people of the United States.
Therefore, TU urges the Committee to seek answers from Ms. Norton to the following critical questions:
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for protecting and recovering 10 species of trout and Pacific salmon in the Western U.S. and Atlantic salmon on the coast of Maine which are listed under the ESA. Full and vigorous use of all the ESA's protection and recovery provisions is necessary to restore the listed species, especially those provisions that apply to endangered species habitat on private lands. Ms. Norton has written on and commented on the role that consideration for property rights should have in implementing environmental regulation. Does Ms. Norton consider the protections extended to certain species under the ESA to be an improper infringement of private property rights? Will she faithfully and fully implement the ESA so that Atlantic salmon and other native fish can be restored to the rivers of their origin?
Protection of a listed species' habitat is one of the ESA's primary tools, yet it is something Ms. Norton has opposed since at least her tenure at the Interior Department during the 1980s. There, she authored a memorandum criticizing a federal court decision that interpreted the ESA's prohibition against harming listed species to include actions that damaged their habitat. Later, as Colorado's Attorney General, Ms. Norton joined in a U.S. Supreme Court brief that sought to remove the ESA's prohibition of actions that damage listed species' habitat. Under the interpretation Ms. Norton has espoused, the ESA would offer scant protection to many listed species, and a major cause of decline for native fish and wildlife species would remain unaddressed. Will Ms. Norton continue to advance that interpretation of the ESA if she becomes the chief guardian of our nation's fish and wildlife species?
Federally Reserved Water Rildts
In the interest of the people of the United States, the Supreme Court has held that water rights sufficient for the purposes of federal reservations, such as National Parks, are created when the reservations were established. States in the West, and Colorado under Ms. Norton's tenure as Attorney General in particular, are very reluctant to acknowledge federal reserved water rights, and have done much to avoid or to limit them.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. Forest Service attempted to restore flows to dried up stretches of streams on National Forest lands in Colorado. As Attorney General, Ms. Norton's office argued that the National Forests have no reserved water rights pursuant to state water law because the land management ag?