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Environmental victory dampened by Interior appointment
By Lee Chowaniec
Mar 18, 2006, 11:25
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While states and environmental advocacy groups were elated by a ruling handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, they were dismayed by President Bush’s appointment of Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne as Secretary of the interior.

The federal court decision was a defeat for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and for industry, and a victory for the states and their environmentalist allies. The new rule overturns a clean-air regulation issued by the Bush administration that would have let many power plants, refineries and factories avoid installing costly new pollution controls to help offset any increased emissions caused by repairs and replacements of equipment.

It would exempt most equipment changes from environmental reviews — even changes that would result in higher emissions.

More than a dozen states, including New York and California and a large group of environmental organizations hailed the decision as one of their most important gains in years of litigation, regulation and legal challenges under the Clean Air Act.

The provision of the law at issue, the "new source review" section, governs the permits required at more than 1,300 coal-fueled power plants around the country and 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants that spew millions of tons of pollution into the air each year.

Kempthorne appointment

At the same time, environmental groups are criticizing President Bush’s appointment of Governor Kempthorne to run the Department of the Interior.

When announcing the appointment, Bush stated, “Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it. He will continue my administration’s efforts to conserve our land, water and air resources in environmentally sensitive ways.”

A Knight Ridder analysis in 2003 concluded Kemphthorne oversaw environmental degradation in several key areas -- including air quality, rivers, and pollution inspections -- during his term as governor of Idaho.

According to ThinkProgress.org, Kemphorne has close ties to the same industries he would be responsible for overseeing. In his last re-election campaign, Kempthorne raised $86,000 from companies from the timber, mining and energy industries.

Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said: “Dirk Kempthorne has been an unabashed champion of the resource extraction and development interests that profit most from public land… the president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee."

"As Governor, Kempthorne led the charge to strip protection from 60 million acres of America's last wild forests and he's consistently fought against protection for wildlife like grizzly bears and salmon in his home state of Idaho. He's openly hostile to America's natural areas and wildlife -- which puts him outside the mainstream of what people want to see for their children and their future.

"As a one-term Senator, Kempthorne only cast one pro- environmental vote in six years, according to the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard. He also introduced a bill to undermine the Endangered Species Act that was unanimously opposed by conservation and scientific groups.

"Gov. Kempthorne has built his career by pushing an anti- environmental agenda and catering to the oil, mining, and timber industries. Kempthorne is cut from the same cloth as Gale Norton. He will be a cheerleader for the Bush administration's efforts to open public lands to industrial development."

Environmentalists around the country derided Kempthorne as a tool of oil and development interests. "The president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee," said the president of the National Environmental Trust.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Kempthorne had “consistently opposed protecting public health and lands.”

When serving six years in the Senate, Kempthorne chaired the Environment and Public Work’s Committee sub-committee on drinking water, fisheries and wildlife. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a rating of 6 – on a scale reading from 0 up to 100 – in his first year in the Senate and a 0 every year thereafter.

Secretary of the Interior Department Gale Norton's resignation was met with both cheers and regrets. Environmentalists say good riddance; people in the logging, gas and oil industries are sad to see her leave. With Kempthorne as Norton’s replacement, it appears the status quo has been assured.

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