Norton pledges to work more closely with states |

Norton pledges to work more closely with states

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) – Interior Secretary Gale Norton pledged Sunday to work more closely with states before making decisions affecting federal lands.

”I want history to record that under our watch, we combined thought with action, so that Americans are inspired to be self-motivated stewards, that we work in partnership to manage our lands and that we are environmentally responsible in developing energy resources,” she said.

The Bush administration Cabinet official made her remarks in the opening session of the Western Governors’ Association, which is discussing wildfire management and energy transmission issues at its annual summer conference.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, said her first call after taking the oath of office was to the governors’ association, and she noted that her boss, a former Texas governor, is a former member of the group.

”We have a lot of ties that bind us together,” she told the governors.

On Monday, Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman were scheduled to sign an agreement with the governors’ association on a long-term plan for preventing and managing wildfires on federal lands.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican and association chairman, told reporters that a single fire season in his state can burn trees on as much land as Rhode Island – enough to build 100,000 homes.

The conference also will discuss ways to improve movement of electricity across the region, where energy supplies have shrunk and prices have climbed precipitously.

Kempthorne said existing power and natural gas transmission lines across the West have reached their capacity.

Solving the region’s energy shortage will require more long-term planning and transmission facilities to carry power from new generating plants coming online in the next two years, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said.

Besides 13 western governors, premiers from six Canadian provinces are attending the conference. Canada supplies about 14 percent of the United States’ natural gas.

”We need to start talking about partnerships, rather than arbitrary trade barriers,” Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer said.

As Interior Secretary, Norton serves as ”superintendent of schools” of 185 schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, educating more than 50,000 American Indian children.

Norton said she wants to begin rebuilding reservation schools and raise their literacy standards

Although Norton pledged to work closely with states on federal land issues, she reiterated the administration’s statement that it will not rescind national monuments established in the last days of the Clinton administration.

The Bush administration will focus on managing the monuments so they have the least amount of disruption on neighboring landowners and local governments, Norton said.

Governors from two populous Western states with big energy needs are not attending the conference.

California’s Gray Davis and Washington’s Gary Locke, both Democrats, skipped the meeting, as did their colleagues from Texas, Alaska, Colorado and Kansas.

Davis is on vacation and Locke had scheduling conflicts, their offices said.

Kempthorne said that while only three of 13 governors attending are Democrats, there is concurrence on many natural resources issues.

Coeur d’Alene is located about 30 miles east of Spokane, Wash.

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