When Gale Norton announced she was stepping down as Interior Secretary, greens cheered … until the president nominated Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne as her replacement.

Yet, at least one hopeful sign came out of last week’s nomination hearings. On Thursday, Kempthorne was grilled by both Democrat and Republican senators on whether he would support George Bush’s proposal to sell off select public lands (to offset the federal deficit, the official reasoning went).

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But Kempthorne seemed to think it was a bad idea to hit the pawn shops with deeds to Forest Service and BLM lands. Or, more precisely, he said, “On the sale of public land for deficit reduction for operating expenses, I do not favor that.” (Yes, he reserved the right to support public-land sales for other reasons.)

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