DO YOU believe that factories have a right to pollute? Do you think we should open our nation's pristine wildlands to oil drilling, mining and logging? Is it a good idea to let polluters police themselves in secret?
Like most Americans, you would probably say no.
Unfortunately, George W. Bush's nomination for secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, says yes to all of these outrageous questions. Norton -- who is a registered lobbyist on lead paint issues for NL Industries, a company facing dozens of lawsuits -- believes that companies have a ``right to pollute,'' that polluters should monitor themselves in secret, and that the federal government doesn't need to protect our air, water or wildlands.
Few issues command as broad a consensus as environmental protection. The vast majority of Americans want strong environmental standards to protect our forests and wildlands, our clean air and drinking water.
Considering the wide support for environmental protection -- and Bush's frequent claims to be a ``uniter, not a divider'' -- the choice of Gale Norton for secretary of the interior is an outrage.
Norton first came to prominence after James Watt hired her to work for the far-right Mountain States Legal Foundation. Watt was the interior secretary who was ousted by then-President Reagan for some controversial comments. After helping loggers, miners and oil companies overturn various environmental laws, Norton was hired by the Reagan administration. There, she worked at the Department of the Interior as associate solicitor helping, among other things, to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
As attorney general of Colorado, Norton was a big proponent of reducing the federal government's ability to set environmental and health standards. Norton also favors a so-called ``self-audit'' approach to regulation that allows polluters who admit to dumping to avoid punishment.
Norton has testified or litigated against every one of our linchpin environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Surface Mining Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Why? Because in Gale Norton's worldview, government is a bully, not a steward or protector of the environment.
The problem for Norton is that for decades an overwhelming majority of Americans have rejected this trust-the-polluter approach. Instead of secret deals and after-the-fact answers, we want strong environmental protections and vigorous law enforcement. That's why Norton's agenda is out of step with mainstream America.
After the election, Bush said he would respect the views of his opponents and unite the nation. Unfortunately, instead of embracing the American consensus for environmental protection, Bush has allied himself with one of the most radical of anti-environmental extremists.
The nomination of Gale Norton as secretary of the interior threatens anyone who hopes to leave a healthy planet for our children.
Robert Cox is president of the Sierra Club.
© 2001 The Mercury News