WASHINGTON - This week will be crucial for Alaska as Congress takes up issues ranging from cruise ship pollution to a vessel buyout for crab fishermen.
The Senate on Friday approved a 2001 transportation spending bill that could lead to more expansion at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Late Thursday, the House and Senate wrapped up negotiations on legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, to compensate Amchitka Island workers with radiation-induced illnesses.
The House and Senate also are working on a compromise Coast Guard authorization bill that could tighten pollution controls on cruise ships operating in Alaska. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, is one of the bill's negotiators.
At issue is legislation Murkowski wrote to prohibit cruise ships from dumping raw sewage in federal waters three miles off the coast. That provision has run into concerns from the state and federal government that its wording could make it easier for the ships to dump other toxic pollutants within state waters.
Stevens has joined Murkowski to get the issue resolved before Congress heads home for the year.
"The cruise ship industry has become one of our major industries," Stevens told reporters. "But it could become one of our major polluters if we're not careful."
Another deal that seems to be in the works is a $100 million appropriation to buy out some of the 260 boats that compete in the king and snow crab harvest in the Bering Sea.
It's likely Congress will extend a moratorium on new programs to assign harvest quotas to fishing boats, and to ask regional fisheries management councils to make recommendations to the Commerce Department on quota systems for consideration by Congress next year.
Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he also is looking at increasing money for coastal assistance approved this week as part of a lands and conservation deal. That deal called for $400 million in coastal and wildlife programs being added to the annual spending bill for the Commerce Department.
Stevens said that provision has touched off some tussling between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Interior Department over which agency has jurisdiction over coastal areas, and he believes more money will have to be added to NOAA's budget.
"We want to make sure that we don't shift real control of the oceans to the Interior Department," Stevens said.
The transportation spending bill recommends adding a north-south taxiway at the Anchorage airport. Another provision urges the FAA to look into a proposal by Native-owned Cook Inlet Region Inc. to develop Fire Island into a cargo airport.