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Worst American Birthdays, vol. VI

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Former Interior Secretary Gail Norton turns 53 years old today. When the history of the Bush administration clown show is at last compiled, our memories of Norton’s record will likely be diminished by the spectacular failures of the president himself — to say nothing of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest of the unlikable lot.

Yet Norton’s five years of open hostility to any notion of the public good should not be overlooked simply because she played no direct role in bringing on the worst foreign policy disaster in American history (though she did once argue that Saddam Hussein was enriched by American environmentalists who opposed tapping the Arctic for more drilling). An advocate of what she called “New Environmentalism” and a self-professed lover of nature, Norton loves it even more when it is filled with lead, nickel, oil, natural gas, and other resources that might enrich the industries she once represented as a lobbyist and attorney. Her devotion to states’ rights was pronounced — in a 1996 speech to a Denver think tank, she lamented the loss of the Confederacy’s vision of limited federal power. Slavery, she observed, was merely a “bad fact” that should not have ruined the broader confederate vision of state autonomy.

As Secretary of the Interior, Norton zealously promoted “wise use” policies that she learned from the most ferocious anti-environmental, free-market ideologues who emerged in the American West during the 1970s and early 1980s — including the apocalyptic loon James Watt. Under her “stewardship,” America’s public lands were opened to wasteful timber harvests; roadless rules were stricken from the books; an army of snowmobiling yahoos was unleashed in Yellowstone; and the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act was curtailed so dramatically that it ceased to offer any meaningful protections to threatened wildlife. Moreover, Secretary Norton continued to oversee the venal management of American Indian tribal lands, where mining, timber and oil leases had drawn hundreds of millions of dollars in reventue that the Department of the Interior had simply lost. In late 2001, Interior’s computers were ordered disconnected from the internet by a federal judge who was unimpressed with the department’s ability to safeguard their system from hackers.

Norton left the Department of the Interior in early 2006. She now spends her time feasting on grizzly bear, bull trout, and condor eggs.

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