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Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton won’t face charges

“It sounds like Secretary Norton was earning her salary from Shell even before they put her on the payroll,”

The Justice Department declined to file charges against Gale Norton.
By DAN BERMAN | 12/10/10 6:15 PM EST Updated: 12/10/10 7:12 PM EST
The Justice Department has declined to file charges against former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in connection with oil shale bids by Royal Dutch Shell.
At issue are valuable oil shale leases that Shell won from Interior after Norton left the George W. Bush administration in March 2006 but before she took a job as a lawyer with the oil giant that December.

“We found that Norton was very interested in the [Research, Development and Demonstration] program during her tenure as secretary, but we did not find evidence to conclusively determine that Norton violated conflict-of-interest laws, either pre- or post-employment, with Shell,” Acting Interior Department Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote in a letter accompanying a report obtained by POLITICO.

The IG found that after leaving Interior but before joining Shell, Norton “failed to fully describe her role in the leasing program” to department ethics officials.” After she was hired, Norton contacted the Pentagon and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, “indirectly,” regarding oil shale issues.

Kendall referred to the report to the Justice Department, which declined to file charges. But despite the lack of federal charges, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) delivered a scathing verdict.

“It sounds like Secretary Norton was earning her salary from Shell even before they put her on the payroll,” Rahall said in a statement.

In her report, Kendall wrote that the Office of Government Ethics suggested that Norton “played a significant role in BLM’s oil shale program while secretary and noted that the former secretary’s participation in the program should subject her to the “lifetime ban on communicating with the federal government regarding the program.”

The IG also found that BLM “appeared to give preferential treatment” to Shell in two instances. In one case, two Shell bids were larger than the acreage allowed by BLM. In another, someone within the agency changed Shell’s numbers to comply with the requirements. Shell also submitted – and won – three bids – while other prospective bidders were allowed only one bid.

“We did not find evidence that Shell committed any criminal violation, but we did discover that someone in BLM provided Shell with information, which allowed Shell to submit a complete bid document on the same day that the Federal Register notice soliciting applications for leases was published,” Kendall wrote. “The next bid that BLM received came in 82 days later.”

An Interior spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the report. Shell’s U.S. operations did not immediately respond for comment.

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