Stevens discusses Southeast issues in Ketchikan

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Earmarks, a proposed cruise ship regulation, fishing rules and other issues were topics for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, during a speech on a one-day stop in Ketchikan.

The most rousing applause for Stevens came when he spoke about Congressional earmarks.

"I won't argue with anyone, including the governor, I just want to say that that's my job," he said. "Now you can criticize the process if you want, but I don't think you should criticize us for doing our jobs."

Gov. Sarah Palin recently said she believes the state should ask for fewer earmarks.

Stevens was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce 41st annual awards banquet at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.

He said that most of the federal funding that comes to Alaska is primarily in the form of earmarks, pointing out that there are few requests in the president's budget for Alaska items.

Earmark funding helped finish an environmental analysis of the Tongass Land Management Plan, he noted.

"These are things called earmarks and when you hear people oppose earmarks you have to ask, where would the money come from?" he said.

Stevens also said that he has protested the federal Passenger Vessel Services Act that would require foreign-flagged vessels that board passengers in a U.S. port to stop at a foreign port for at least 48 hours. The proposal could bring thousands of fewer visitors to Southeast Alaska this year.

He said that rule was used to protect U.S.-flag vessels in competition with foreign flag vessels, specifically in Hawaii, which is not the situation in Alaska.

"That rule should not be applied to us, and we have protested that," he said. "The application will have very serious consequences ... for the whole state. We've urged the Department of Homeland Security to make an exception of that rule."

Stevens also talked about illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing by vessels that target fish outside the country's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, saying the vessels threaten Alaska's economy and environment.

In the most recent appropriations bill, Congress adopted an amendment Stevens offered to list fishing vessels and owners engaged in that activity on a blacklist. He said it allows the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to take action against those that are "blacklisted."

"We think that IUU vessels are easy to identify and everyone should avoid doing any business with them," Stevens said.

He also briefly addressed a bill that he co-sponsored with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to develop ways to sequester carbon to use it for energy purposes. He said that younger forests more readily sequester carbon, which is a reason to always have a portion of the forest growing.

"The problem that environmentalists have gotten themselves into is they oppose cutting trees and yet they want to spend billions of dollars to sequester carbon that would be sequestered naturally," Stevens said. "We are going to have some interesting times in the coming Congresses to try and really restate what we're up to in terms of management of our forests."

Stevens also said he is trying to see that the U.S. Coast Guard vessel Acushnet that is scheduled to be decommissioned is replaced.

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