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John Hollenhorst ReportingA member of President Bush's cabinet was in Utah today. U.S. Interior Secretary Gail Norton is promoting the wise use of water. At a ceremony in Provo Canyon she handed out nearly three-million dollars in grants to 11 projects. They're aimed at improving water efficiency in Utah.
But she also paid a visit to KSL to promote a more controversial part of the Bush agenda: increased drilling for oil and gas.
The Interior Department originally offered us an exclusive interview with Secretary Norton on the subject of water. Later they called back to say she wanted to emphasize the need for new energy sources, in particular drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Clearly, that's been one of President Bush's toughest proposals to sell. And after five years of failing to convince the Senate and the public, the administration is making a hard new push. Secretary Norton told us drilling in the Arctic is necessary to create a diversity of energy sources.
Gail Norton, U.S. Secretary of Interior: "We've seen from results of the two hurricanes going through the Gulf of Mexico that having all of our eggs in one basket is not a good idea. We need conservation, we need renewable energy, we also need to look for other places to find traditional energy."
But critics in Utah say the Bush administration has been pushing drilling too hard and too fast in pristine, sensitive areas. They say the administration has handed out more drilling permits than the industry can even use.
Steve Block, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "I really think it's a hay-day for industry, that this is their time, they feel this is their time to stockpile these drill permits for the future, for a future administration that's going to be more sensitive to where these wells are being drilled."
A senate committee today approved drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. The House has approved it before but it's never made it all the way through the Senate. We'll see how it goes this time.