Reports: Interior Secretary Gale Norton expected to resign |

Reports: Interior Secretary Gale Norton expected to resign

DENVER ” Interior Secretary Gale Norton was expected to resign Friday after serving more than five years as the Bush administration’s point person on the environment and natural resources, two Denver newspapers reported.

Norton’s announcement was expected later in Washington, The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News reported on their Web sites. Both cited sources they did not identify.

Norton is a former Colorado attorney general and the first woman to hold the Interior job. Her background work for logging and mining interests made her a controversial cabinet nominee, and critics labeled her as “James Watt in a skirt,” referring to the Reagan administration Interior secretary who once worked with Norton at the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Norton responded with a mantra about her “Four C’s” for land stewardship: “consultation, cooperation, communication ” all in the service of conservation.”

Under her watch, the Interior Department stripped protection from areas previously managed as wilderness, opened forests to increased logging, reopened Yellowstone National Park to snowmobiles and urged federal land managers to speed up drilling for gas on public land.

Norton called the work “cooperative conservation,” which included partnerships with landowners and developers as opposed to regulations. Still, her goal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling has not been realized.

She also had a mixed record with American Indian tribes. As secretary, she inherited a huge lawsuit over the department’s alleged mismanagement of Indian trust funds, which are supposed to compensate individual Indians for the use of their land. The class-action lawsuit seeks potentially billions of dollars in compensation over botched record-keeping and missing records.

And last year, Norton’s name came up during an investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was accused of bilking Indian tribes out of millions of dollars while they sought favorable Interior Department decisions on casinos.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee uncovered e-mails suggesting a one-time Norton associate, Italia Federici, tried to act as a conduit for Abramoff, helping arrange meetings with Norton or her former top deputy and passing information back and forth.

Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, however, said he found no evidence that Norton had done anything wrong.

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