Friday, September 18, 2009

Revolving Interior Department door comes as no surprise

Is there anyone who would be surprised to learn that a top Bush administration environmental official is under investigation for possibly breaking ethics laws? Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the first interior secretary under former President George W. Bush, allegedly discussed future job opportunities with Royal Dutch Shell, the giant oil company, while she was considering awarded shale oil exploration leases to a Shell subsidiary, the New York Times reported today. The Times said officials of the department's inspector general's office confirmed the existence of an investigation, as did a Shell spokeswoman. The investigation was first reported in the Los Angeles Times, the New York newspaper said. Investigators have already turned over their findings to the Justice Department after a yearlong investigation into allegations that an award of three leases in Colorado to the Shell subsidiary might have been tainted by Norton's job search. She is now Shell's general counsel in the United States for unconventional fuels, the Times said. "We are aware of an investigation, the Shell spokeswoman, Kelly C. op de Weegh, told the New York Times. "However, we are not in a position to comment.” Norton also declined to comment, the New York paper said. Of course, the mere appearance of impropriety is not in itself improper. But while she was in office, Norton was an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration's push to open more federal land to energy exploration, the New York Times said. The government has long sought a way to extract oil from shale, which is common in the west. If Norton was looking for a job with a company that was seeking and was awarded government contracts, she could be soon facing a federal indictment.

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