WASHINGTON - In an abrupt reversal, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said Thursday he will not pursue legislation that could have loosened a law limiting oil tanker traffic in Puget Sound.
The proposal would have changed key portions of the 1977 Magnuson Amendment, which limits expansion of oil refineries and the number of oil tankers entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. The law, named after the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash., restricts expansion of oil traffic unless it is "for consumption in the state of Washington."
Stevens said he decided to drop the legislation after discussing it with fellow Republican Mike McGavick, who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat from Washington state this year.
"I have never in my 38 years in the Senate asked to have any bill I introduced be permanently postponed, but that is my intention now," Stevens said in a speech on the Senate floor. "For years, I fought for Alaska's right to determine our state's future and develop our own energy resources, particularly on the Arctic Coastal Plain. I defer to this policy now because I believe the people of Washington ought to make this decision."
Stevens said he still believes the change is necessary to increase fuel supplies for Alaska and other Western states, but said, "I yield to the concerns of Washingtonians on this matter."
At a news conference later, Stevens said, "Mike asked me to take it down," adding: "It will not be a football in a Senate race in Washington."
McGavick, a former aide to Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said he decided to reach out to Stevens and explain that the idea was "a non-starter" in Washington. He said he reminded Stevens how unpleasant it was for the senator when others sought to make decisions about Alaska.
"I think in the end that was the argument that was most persuasive," McGavick said at a news conference in Seattle later Thursday. He said his focus would be on solving problems and getting away from the culture of "permanent campaigning" in Washington, D.C.
Outside, state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz led a group wearing "Mike the Lobbyist" T-shirts. He told reporters McGavick is lagging behind the incumbent and using the tanker issue to "jump-start his campaign. He's letting his friend Ted Stevens throw him a line."
The tanker issue had become a focus of the Senate race between McGavick and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who had vowed to do everything possible to stop the plan.
Cantwell and other Washington lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks, and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, have said that an unlimited number of tankers presented an unlimited risk of spills.