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IID officials strongly support interior secretary, hope she brings balance

February 01, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Imperial Irrigation District officials this morning voiced strong support for Gale Norton, who has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as interior secretary — a position that could have her play a lead role in key local water issues.

Norton was confirmed by a 75-24 vote earlier this week.

Norton faced opposition from environmental groups following her nomination by President George W. Bush. She was among the last cabinet appointees to be confirmed.

One other cabinet member appointed this week was Christie Whitman, who will head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

John Ashcroft, Bush's appointee as attorney general, has yet to be confirmed. The Senate was expected to vote on his appointment today.

IID officials think Norton will bring different political beliefs than her predecessor Bruce Babbitt, who served as interior secretary under the Clinton administration.


District officials said where Babbitt's policies showed favor to environmentalists, they are hopeful Norton will take a more balanced stance.

IID Executive Officer Brad Luckey said Babbitt "allowed the environmental movement to set policy, and she will not do that. She is very much pro business."

Some IID officials have repeatedly blamed environmental groups and environmental policies both at the state and federal levels for such issues as the power crisis in the state.

IID Director Bruce Kuhn has led that charge. He said he is hopeful Norton's stance, and the stance of Whitman as head of the EPA, will benefit the Imperial Valley.

IID board President Andy Horne said, "I'm encouraged by what I have heard about her (Norton)."

He agreed with Luckey and Kuhn that the previous administration was overly supportive of the environmental community, and that Norton could bring about a change.

Horne said it will be important to watch who Norton appoints to her administration.

IID officials did acknowledge Norton could play a key role in the water issues facing the district.

One such issue is the development of a quantification settlement agreement between the IID, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Coachella Valley Water Authority that would create a 75-year peace between those agencies.

Another unfinished issue is the proposal to transfer 200,000 acre feet of conserved Imperial Valley water per year to San Diego.

Both the quantification settlement and the water transfer are key parts of what would become the California Colorado River Use Plan, meant to create peace between the basin states that depend on the Colorado River.

Norton is a former Colorado attorney general. IID officials said that is a positive because it means she brings into her new position some knowledge of water issues.

Luckey said Norton, based on her record, is the type of official who will serve as a facilitator rather than a regulator.

"She is more into problem solving," Luckey said. "She is more into local control."

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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