If U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens has his way, his 80th birthday will herald another chapter in his 33-year career in the nation's capital. Alaska's senior senator said Wednesday he will seek another six-year term in 2002, adding he's never felt better in his life.
"There's an end out there, but I enjoy this job," Stevens told reporters in Juneau. "You go to those towns - Nome, Kotzebue and Barrow - and talk to people about what their hopes and dreams are and then go back and try to help them achieve them. That is a tremendous feeling and it sustains me."
He was not as benevolent to what he called "extreme environmentalists" during a one-hour address to the Legislature on Wednesday. Stevens railed against environmentalists across the country for fighting development here and costing jobs in Alaska, echoing a familiar theme in his annual talks with lawmakers.
"We don't have a rural-urban divide, we have an extreme environmentalist-Alaskan divide," Stevens said during a speech that touched on a host of topics ranging from oil to two teens who survived six days in snowstorms last week.
Stevens, a Republican, said a bill to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling does not have enough support to pass, but he hopes that will change after people in states short of energy get a dose of summer heat without air conditioners.
"California is having a bad winter. When it starts using gasoline and air conditioning in the summer, it's going to be worse. As a consequence we believe more and more people are going to start thinking about what we've asked them to think about and that is long-term energy solutions," said Stevens, adding the oil industry seems to be "sitting on its hands" and should lobby Congress harder to open ANWR.
Stevens said he did not understand a federal judge's decision in March that said the U.S. Forest Service violated federal law by failing to consider some roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest as eligible for wilderness designation when the agency updated its forest management plan four years ago. The judge prohibited the Forest Service from taking any further actions that would alter the wilderness character of eligible roadless areas until it complies with federal law, affecting some 9.4 million roadless acres. The Forest Service has since suspended logging in the Tongass.
Stevens said the 1980 Alaska National Interest Land Claims Act requires congressional approval to withdraw more than 5,000 acres of additional land in Alaska from the public domain and the judge should have heeded that.
"I believe the 1980 act ought to govern the court," Stevens said.
He also said a group of former Navy officials is pushing a ship-based national missile defense system. The proposal competes against an Alaska plan to base the project here.
"The Navy problem is coming from a group of people who believe ... the Navy is going to be shortchanged in terms of money in the period of development of national missile defense," Stevens said. "Therefore, they would rather see this on Navy vessels because they'd probably get replacement vessels and improved conditions."
Stevens said he will talk next week to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about basing the system in Alaska.
Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson asked what Congress can do to protect Alaska fisheries now that the federal government has taken over management of some subsistence fisheries. The feds stepped in after some lawmakers rejected a constitutional amendment giving rural residents first crack at subsistence fish and game.
"I don't know of an answer to this and it really pains me we cannot find a way to work together and return management to the state," Stevens said. "The federal agencies have supreme power now in fish and wildlife."
Kathy Dye can be reached at email@example.com.