Interior Secretary Sued For Stacking BLM Advisory Boards
Conservation groups filed suit in Colorado today to overturn Interior Secretary Gale Norton's appointment of political cronies to three public lands advisory boards. Norton's appointments are one of the clearest examples of the Bush administration giving business interests decision-making power over the public's interests. Secretary Norton appointed the controversial individuals to Colorado's Resource Advisory Councils (RACs), which are boards intended to advise the federal Bureau of Land Management on important land use issues. These boards are supposed to represent a spectrum of interest groups regularly involved with public lands issues. They are not supposed to be political appointments, although this board appears to be just that.
Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Mountain Club after repeated attempts to work with the Department of Interior to remedy the situation were ignored.
"Americans have a right to a fair and open process, and the appointment of the governor's slate by Secretary Norton violates that trust. Now we will have our day in court," said Vera Smith, conservation director with the Colorado Mountain Club.
Fifty other qualified citizens who had completed the application process correctly were passed over at the 11th hour when Republican Governor Bill Owens, a strong Norton supporter, brought his slate of pro development names forward two weeks after the deadline passed. The 13 people nominated after the fact by Governor Owens were rubber stamped by the BLM in September 2001 when the appointments were made. The law requires appointees to present a letter of reference from the groups they purport to represent when they apply for the boards. This requirement was never fulfilled for the Owens slate.
"In 2001, BLM's new appointments were virtually dictated by the governor, whose nominations were universally appointed, to the detriment of the rest of the public," said Earthjustice attorney Eric Huber.
Governor Bill Owens was an early champion of Gayle Norton as Secretary of the Interior, and testified in support of her confirmation by the Senate. In bowing to the governor's influence, BLM had to ignore its own nomination deadline and qualification requirements.
"As acknowledged by the governor's office, these candidates never submitted lawful applications and are therefore not legally nominated. Those appointees who failed to follow the law should not be allowed to serve on this body," said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope Field Director with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.