Norton, Whitman Skate Through Senate Approval

The Senate last week approved former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton to the cabinet position of Secretary of the Interior, and tapped New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to head up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Senate rendered a month's worth of public debate over Norton moot as it eased Norton past by a 75-to-24 vote. Norton has faced across-the-board protests from environmental groups, which have accused her of favoring business and individual interests over those of the environment. Republican senators and others did their best during committee hearings a week ago to defuse the controversy plaguing her nomination by painting the environmentalists who opposed her as "extremists."

Environmentalist groups have also voiced their concerns about her support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and production. The Norton approval comes just a week after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted out her nomination by an 18-2 vote.

The more popular nomination of Whitman, who has sided with environmentalists in opposition to new natural gas pipelines in New Jersey, seemed to have bipartisan backing, sailing through the Senate vote by a 99-0 vote. Sources said Whitman will soon step down from her post as governor and report to Washington.

The only major Bush nomination still pending is that of John Ashcroft for attorney general, which has been vigorously opposed by women's rights groups. Even so that nomination also is expected to be approved this week, in keeping with the tradition that a president's picks are honored unless they are discovered to have actually broken the laws they will be asked to uphold.

Alex Steis

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