Norton would avoid involvement in subsistence case

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Interior Secretary-designate Gale Norton says she will not involve herself in any policy decisions about an Alaska subsistence fishing lawsuit for at least a year.

In disclosure papers filed with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Norton said she will avoid any involvement with the case known as Katie John v. the state of Alaska.

Norton worked on the case, as a private attorney, for the Alaska Legislature last year.

In that work, she opposed the federal government's position in the case, as developed under the Clinton administration. If she is confirmed for the top Interior post she would be in a position to help reshape the government's official view. But, given ethical considerations, she said that she would not do so for at least a year.

The Energy Committee, headed by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted Wednesday to recommend to the full Senate that she be confirmed.

Katie John sued the Interior Department in 1991, asking the department to force the state to let her set salmon nets at a Copper River fish camp.

The federal courts established that the federal government has authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure subsistence rights for rural residents.

The Legislature hired a Washington, D.C., attorney to file a brief in the case, and that attorney hired Norton to help him. She earned about $60,000 for the work.

Heather Kendall-Miller, the Native American Rights Fund attorney from Anchorage who represents John, said earlier this month that Norton's involvement in the case was not good news from her perspective.

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