Gale Norton

Gale Norton is an authentic product of the American political system which provokes a person’s complete metamorphosis, a political system that changes people’s convictions, reabsorbs that person and “generates” a new one. An example of this is 1971 pacifist John Kerry who would later approve the war against Iraq for “the country must be safe” by all possible means. Gale Norton was in charge of natural reserves during George W. Bush’s neoconservative administration and was educated in a completely different tradition.

Gale Norton was born in 1954 in Wichita, Kansas, in a Republican family quite sensitive to Barry Goldwater’s extremely liberal and conservative discourse. For the Republican candidate of 1964 presidential election (who would lose to Democrat Lyndon Johnson), «extremism in the defense of liberty is not a vice and moderation in the search for justice is not a virtue». [1] This is a political though focused on the concept of individual freedom which would have an impact on Gale Norton.

Ed Clarke

At the beginning of the 70s, the young lady began to study law at the University of Denver where Condoleezza Rice studied too. During the Viet Nam war, she participated temporarily in several pacifists’ demonstrations, just before joining the big extremely liberal ideologues’ family. She joined the Libertarian Party (not a powerful political party in the U.S.) at the end of the 70s and went to Colorado to run the presidential campaign of the Libertarian Party candidate, Mister Ed Clarke, between 1979 and 1980. Clarke’s program was opposed to that of Ronald Reagan and accused the “national security” institutions: he wanted the Department of Energy, the FBI and the CIA to be dismantled. The young lawyer wrote speeches for Mr. Clarke in which she demanded the legalization of marihuana and uncensored pornography. On foreign policy issues, Ed Clarke called for the return of every American soldier abroad [2].

The campaign was backed up by Charles Koch, heir of Koch Industries, whose father Fred Koch, had always financed anti-union movements and had been a prominent member of the national council of anticommunist organization John Birch Society. “Libertarians” were also assisted by the Cato Institute which was subsidized by Charles Koch himself. At the end of the campaign, Ed Clarke won a million votes, a remarkable record for an unknown candidate and an insignificant party.

Gale Norton’s membership in Bush’s team allow us to question the “libertarian” ideology for the powers of the Federal state police were strengthened in an unusual way, regulations against freedom were multiplied, the moral order was reestablished and the soldiers were sent to two foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that this ideology only helps the captains of industries to implement their own projects without considering ecological or health-related issues.
This is what Gale Norton did when she finished Ed Clarke’s campaign. When she graduated in 1979, she was recruited by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a jurists association based in Denver “devoted to the individual freedom, the right to private property, government control and the free market system”. Its founder, Joseph Coors, made his fortune in one of the three major American breweries and decided to invest his money in the ideological reform of the Right. In 1973, he financed the Heritage Foundation by making a 250 000 dollars contribution and had already subsidized the Committee to Save a Free Congress in 1972 [3].

During this period, extreme conservatives lost many legal cases while their lawyers were also working in favor of the minorities’ civic rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization of Women which succeeded in limiting existent discrimination in the labor market.

On their side, Indians in the U.S. were successful in the recognition of their religious rights and the protection of some of their more sacred sites. By that time, the Congress passed several texts in which “industrial accidents” such as aquifer pollution and the emission of toxic products to the atmosphere were censored. Hence, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) passed in 1969 demanded the government to make a research on “the impact on the environment” before implementing any project or activity. Other texts defended species or animals to be in danger of extinction whereas the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air and Clean Water Act protected water and the ecosystem.

Joseph Coors

The extreme Right tried to react against this new movement which included consumers as well as ecologists. The Heritage Foundation worked on the ideological presentation but a structure was needed to make this “solid” in court. In this context, Coors founded in 1977 the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) and became its first president. This institution, directed by republican James Watt, was immediately described by militant ecologists «as a right-wing and anti-ecologist organization aimed at sabotaging environmental laws» [4].

Actually, this institution has been characterized by its extremely liberal conception on the defense of the environment: for instance, Mountain States Legal Foundation’s jurists have permitted mountain guides to work on the Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, despite its classification as a “national monument” and the fact that the National Park Service wanted to prohibit such a practice to show respect to the Indians who has lived there and considered the place sacred. A survey publish by the Yale Law Journal in 1984 revealed that in 24 litigations taken to court by Mountain States, the positions defended “benefited societies represented in its board of directors, clients of societies represented in its legal board or MSLF’s main fund suppliers”.

Ronald Reagan’s accession to the White House in 1980 meant new perspectives to ecology’s extreme liberals. The director of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, James Watt, was appointed Minister of Environment and dealt with national reserves. Then, Gale Norton was promoted and defended by all possible legal means the positions and interests of the major enterprises on environment related issues. One of her arguments became famous: based on the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. which states that private property can not be hindered by a public use without a “fair compensation”, Gale Norton affirmed that the big industries had to be compensated by the Federal State for their pollution was in favor of the general interest. As she harshly explained: «we should recognize that there is an individual right to pollute or make noise in a given area».

However, this legal argument was eliminated since 1887 by the Supreme Court of the U.S.: in a famous decision it stated that «a government can prevent an owner from using his assets if he harms other individuals and do not pay any compensation for the damage». Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution challenged this jurisprudence first with Gale Norton’s works and then with writer Richard Epstein. This former law professor wrote that laws on environmental issues, minimal wage, working codes, and even the personal income tax, could be associated with ownership privations and accordingly justify the payment of a financial compensation to the enterprises upon which they are imposed.

Gale Norton’s intelligence is noticeable. In 1983, she was offered a post at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution where she studied the possibilities of avoiding environmental laws and “permissions to pollute” - a new topic by then- which is an idea that can be found in the Clean Air Act proposed during the Bush’s Admintration. In 1984, she became a member of the team who worked for the Department of Environment after James Watts’ forced resignation under the ecologists’ pressure.

The Minister of environment, Don Hodel, future leader of the Christian Coalition, gave Gale Norton what she needed to work on a report that would support oil prospecting in a remarkable natural reserve of the Artic region. Then, from 1985 to 1988, the former “libertarian” worked for the Presidential Council on the Quality of the Environment which is a paradoxical position for a former opponent of the Federal State interference on ecological issues...

In 1987, when Ronald Reagan’s second term came to an end, Gale Norton returned to Colorado to start a local political career. Her thesis and ideas were very popular in the industrial world as was shown in 1988 with the foundation of the Wise Use movement, an initiative by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb. 250 delegates closed to the industrial world or lobby were present in that meeting and proposed Alaska be given to oil companies, natural reserves to mining companies and “pro-development” groups such as the Mountain States Legal Foundation be authorized to chase ecologists who injured industrial societies.

Aware of the need of maintaining her presence in this sector, Gale Norton joined the Independence Institute of the libertarian movement, the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy [5] and, above all, the Federalist Society, a conservative jurists’ organization which included Kenneth Starr, Robert Borke and Edwin Meese, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Justice. But what Gale Norton had in mind was to be the Attorney General of the state of Colorado, a post she got in 1991, given to a woman for the first time. Once she was appointed, her policy was neither “libertarian” nor ecological. She favored the death penalty, increased juvenile detention centers, and reduced one third of her administration budget for environmental issues. She even refused to press charges against an enterprise which worked on a gold mine and spilled cyanide in a local river exterminating every form of aquatic life in an area of more than 20 kilometers.

Things went even worse for members of her constituency pressed charges against different societies which had damaged aquifers with heavy metal and she proposed them laughable financial agreements when she refused to act. That was the case of Louisiana-Pacific: whereas Gale Norton refused to press charges against the company, federal authorities decided to interfere and Louisiana-Pacific had to pay a 37 million dollars fine.

Gale Norton’s record as the General Attorney of Colorado was shameful. However, she was reelected in 1995. This time, her campaign was financed by the tobacco industry (Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, the Smokeless Tobacco Council and the Tobacco and Candy Political Action Campaign) and, as a result, Colorado did not join the 23 states that were willing to condemn it. She even testified before Congress on the “unconstitutionality” of such a procedure and Denver’s media began to call her «Mrs. Marlboro». She only joined the battle in the last moment, an action by which she got part of the compensations gained.

After that, she opposed positive discrimination programs, especially those to protect disabled people, defended a legislation passed by Colorado voters which discriminated homosexuals and nostalgically recalled the courage of the confederate soldiers of slavery south during the Civil War. Gale Norton went too far and in 1996 she lost senatorial elections despite the invaluable help of political genius Karl Rove [6].

However, Gale Norton kept her contacts in Washington, especially among the most reactionary elements of the Republican Party. In 1988 she founded the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy with the purpose of challenging Martha Marks’ Republicans for Environmental Protection who was considered to be too ecological. In fact, many owners of the major polluting industries were present at the inaugural meeting and were ready to finance the former libertarian’s new toy, especially the Chlorine Chemical Council, the National Coal Council, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the National Mining Association. Extremely conservative Newt Gringrich became a regular guest, always received as a God by the new Republican group [7].

In 1999, Gale Norton worked at the same time as a jurist for the Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber, P.C law firm. Her job was to defend Houston-based society NL Industries, the former National Lead Co., which became famous for spreading the use of paint with lead and causing the appearance of cancer in young people, said American courts. Gale Norton was not only the National Lead Co.’s lawyer; she was also registered as a lobbyist of this society in Colorado judicial institutions [8].

Gale Norton was also the representative of Saudi society Delta Oil and of BP-Amoco during the unsuccessful negotiations with the Talibans for the construction of an oil pipeline through Afghanistan [9].
This career with the major polluting industrialists was highly applauded by the new Bush Administration. In January 2001, she was appointed Minister of Environment. Since then, her main task has been ... not to do anything that might upset the major polluting industries and, above all, to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. The same thing happens with her assistant secretary, Steven Griles, who sometimes is presented by President Bush as the real head of department. This man has a lobby record too to the eyes of the polluting industries [10]. In addition, industrialists count on the influence of the Federalist Society to which Gale Norton belongs to, and whose founder is Spencer Abraham, former representative of the automobile industry in the Senate and current Secretary of Energy [11].

Gale Norton’s duplicity is a transposition in the political world of the communications methods already adopted in commercialization matters by some transnational companies: it is not about products but about values. In this case, it is not about political decisions but about ecological and freedom values.

[1Quoted by Serge Halimi, «Quand la droite américaine pensait l’impensable», Le Monde Diplomatique, January, 2002

[2Laura Flanders: Bushwomen - Tales of a cynical species, Verso, 2004

[3Russ Bellant: The Coors Connection - How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, Political Research Associates, 1988-1991

[4To know about the association funding, visit the site MediaTransparency

[5The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy is San Francisco’s homologous of New York’s Manhattan Institute

[6Bushwomen, op.cit

[7William Booth: «For Norton, a Party Mission», Washington Post, January 8, 2001

[8« Norton lobbied for superfund target », Associated Press, January 5, 2001

[9Ahmed Rashid: Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, Tauris & Co, 2000

[10See Adam Werbach: «Son of James Watt», AlterNet, September 17, 2004

[11Arthur Lepic: «Spencer Abraham, un homme de confiance », Voltaire, April 15, 2004