Although environmentalist groups had promised to make the Interior post a battleground, neither New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman (EPA administrator) nor Gale Norton (Interior Secretary) faced the intense Senate debate other nominees have drawn.

At her confirmation hearing, Gov. Whitman promised “a strong federal role” on environmental protection, but she also said she would review several regulations issued by EPA in the final days of the Clinton administration.

Norton, the former Colorado attorney general, drew a firestorm of opposition from environmental groups, primarily because of her stated support for drilling in the coastal area of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. One group, Friends of the Earth, called her nomination “ declaration of war on the environment.”

But, Norton easily captured enough Senate support to make approval almost a formality.

That opposition from environmentalists is not likely to go away, however. Several groups have put the secretary on notice that they will be monitoring the administration’s environmental moves closely in the coming months.