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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Bush's Picks

Air Date: Week of

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TOOMEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. When president-elect George W. Bush takes the oath of office on January twentieth, he'll bring a top team with diverse views when it comes to the environment. Some of the cabinet officers Mr. Bush has nominated - like New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman - are moderates and support continued federal regulation. Others, like former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, are more conservative on conservation issues, and favor local control and states' rights. Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports.

GRABER: Terry Anderson, head of a conservative environmental think tank, says he was ecstatic when Gail Norton called to tell him she'd been nominated for Secretary of the Interior.

ANDERSON: Most importantly, she is a very reasoned individual who cares deeply about the environment and the resources that are under control of the Department of Interior.

GRABER: Anderson recently served with Norton on an environmental advisory committee to then-presidential candidate George Bush. Norton is an advocate for giving a stronger voice to states and local and private interests on environmental issues. She's received criticism for her environmental record. More than 20 years ago she worked under James Watt, President Reagan's controversial Interior Secretary, for a legal foundation that represented logging and mining interests. Later, as legal staff at Reagan's Department of Interior, she pushed for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Carl Pope is head of the Sierra Club. He says his organization will try to block her confirmation, at least in part because of her belief that there is a large amount of oil in the Arctic that could be tapped as a natural resource.

POPE: Well, there's also a huge caribou herd, a lot of polar bear, a lot of wolves. It's one of America's most important wildlife resources. And the fact that the president seems to have picked in this critical position someone who is unaware of those basic facts is very distressing to us.

GRABER: If Bush's selection of Norton was a bow to the conservative wing of the Republican party, his choice of Christine Todd Whitman as head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a response to the moderates. Whitman is nearing the end of her second term as New Jersey's governor. Her background is mixed when it comes to environmental issues. During her first term, she cut the state budget for the Department of Environmental Protection and eliminated the position of environmental prosecutor. Curtis Fisher of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group says actions such as these earned her a poor report card from New Jersey environmental groups after her first term.

FISHER: And they gave her failing grades on that report card for implementing the state's key regulatory programs, such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other environmental laws that governor Whitman will have a direct role in making sure it gets implemented now nationally.

GRABER: During her second term as governor, Whitman headed up an initiative to protect one million acres of open space in New Jersey from development. She cleaned up New Jersey's coal-fired plants and was a vocal supporter of the need to reduce emissions from Midwest coal-fired plants. Sierra Club's Carl Pope says this shows she has potential as head of EPA.

POPE: In general, in New Jersey, when she got personally involved in issues, they came out in a more environmental way than when she simply delegated them to her appointees. Additionally, the fact that she did move during her two terms from having a very, very inadequate enforcement budget to a much more adequate one is something which gives us some hope that she does listen and does learn.

GRABER: Bush has selected people with opposing viewpoints for his final cabinet selections. Former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham was chosen for Secretary of Energy. As Senator, Abraham voted against higher fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, in favor of reduced funding for renewable energy research, and to abolish the Department of Energy. Like Gail Norton, he favors drilling in the Arctic as a way of reducing our reliance on foreign oil supplies. In contrast, Norman Mineta, Bush nominee for Secretary of Transportation, supports higher fuel efficiency and public transportation. The Democrat is currently Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration. Bush's appointment for Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Venemen, was the Deputy Secretary under the first President Bush and Secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture in her home state, California. She's drawn praise from both Republicans and Democrats for her knowledge and experience on farm and trade issues. President-elect Bush's Cabinet is not only diverse with regard to sex and race, but in opinion as well. It remains to be seen how these views will influence the administration's environmental policy in the next four years. For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.



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