The Happy Leftie

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust: Interior Secretary Gale Norton Resigns


John Heilprin
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Gale Norton resigned Friday after five years in President Bush's Cabinet and at a time when her agency is part of a lobbying scandal over Indian gaming licenses.

In a letter to Bush, Norton said the resignation would be effective at the end of March.

"Now I feel it is time for me to leave this mountain you gave me to climb, catch my breath, then set my sights on new goals to achieve in the private sector," she said in the two-page resignation letter.

Norton, who turns 52 on Saturday, said she and her husband "hope to end up closer to the mountains we love in the West."

Bush called Norton a strong advocate for "the wise use and protection of our nation's natural resources."

"When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region, she played a leading role in my administration's efforts to restore badly needed offshore energy production," he said.

The leading Republican and Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee have said that e-mails show that Steven Griles, Norton's former deputy, had a close relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Another one-time Norton associate, Italia Federici, helped Abramoff gain access to Griles in exchange for contributions from Abramoff's Indian tribe clients, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., have said.

A former Colorado attorney general, Norton guided the Bush administration's initiative to open Western government lands to more oil and gas drilling.

As one of the architects of Bush's energy policy, she eased regulations to speed approval of drilling permits, particularly in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

She also was the administration's biggest advocate for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope to oil drilling

The first woman ever to head the Interior Department, Norton was a protege of James Watt, the controversial interior secretary during President Ronald Reagan's first term in office. Watt was forced to resign after characterizing a coal commission in terms that were viewed by some as a slur.