Norton is no stranger to Alaska issues

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Gale Norton, President-elect Bush's choice for Interior secretary, is no stranger to two of the most contentious issues facing Alaskans.

During her career, Norton has worked on both the subsistence hunting and fishing dispute and on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As a private attorney, she wrote a brief on behalf of the Alaska Legislature's Republican majority last year in the subsistence fishing case, Katie John vs. the state of Alaska.

Fifteen years earlier, as an Interior Department attorney, Norton helped write an opinion that favored oil drilling in ANWR's coastal plain.

Between her work at the Interior Department in the mid-1980s and her entry into private practice last year, Norton served two terms as Colorado's attorney general.

During her tenure, she developed expertise in water rights law that was key to the Legislature's decision to hire her for the Katie John suit.

State Sen. Mike Miller, R-North Pole, who served as chairman of the Legislative Council for the past two years, said her work was outstanding. He said the Republican leadership hired Norton to help support Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles' stance in the suit.

Knowles and most Republican legislators think the federal court decisions in the Katie John case broadly threaten state ownership of navigable waters.

Native groups say the state's position threatens a priority for rural residents who depend on fish for food.

Steve Ginnis, president of Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks, said he hadn't reviewed Norton's role in the Katie John case but wasn't encouraged by her selection.

''On her position on subsistence, I'm very much concerned about that,'' he said.

Norton has made it clear she supports oil development in ANWR. In the 1980s, Norton worked as an associate solicitor for parks and conservation in the Interior Department.

She helped prepare the 1987 environmental impact statement on oil drilling in ANWR. Despite a finding by federal scientists that the Porcupine Caribou Herd would face ''significant adverse effects'' from development, the department decided to advocate drilling.

Melinda Peirce, Washington representative of the Sierra Club, said the group has asked the Interior Department for documents that may reveal Norton's role.

Environmental groups are expected to try to block Norton's nomination.

But Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said despite the strong opposition from environmentalists, Norton would be confirmed.

''She will make it,'' he said.

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