Alaska editorial: Stevens shouldn't be surprised by response

Posted: Thursday, December 01, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens might ask himself how he'd respond if Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell wanted to change the way oil tankers operate in Prince William Sound, especially if her bill went against the wishes of most Alaskans.

He'd tie a tight knot in his Hulk tie and go to war.

So he shouldn't be too surprised that Washington politicians have quickly spoken in a resounding "no" to his efforts on behalf of BP and an increased oil supply for the company's Puget Sound refinery at Cherry Point. Initial press reports indicate most Washington state politicians - and the public, too - oppose the proposed refinery expansion and increased tanker traffic in the Sound.

There's powerful demand in Washington to protect Puget Sound. It was an old colleague of Sen. Stevens', the late Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson, who in 1977 won passage of a measure restricting refinery expansion unless needed by consumers in Washington. In other words, if Washington state doesn't want it, it doesn't happen. That, in effect, has limited tanker traffic in Puget Sound.

Democratic Sen. Cantwell has promised to fight Republican Sen. Stevens' bill using his own weapons - the rules of the Senate. "I will use every procedural option granted to me as a United States senator to stop this unfortunate and misguided legislation from becoming law," she said. Though more subtle than the Alaska senator's loud voice in delivering an ultimatum, her message is clear.

She also is scoring big political points on the home front for taking on the popular cause. Even her likely Republican challenger for re-election in 2006 has told Sen. Stevens the proposed refinery expansion is a dead issue in Washington.

Yes, power politics is afoot here - on both sides. And, yes, there's a good argument for refinery expansion on the West Coast, which hasn't seen a new refinery since Cherry Point in 1971. If increased supply means lower prices, Sen. Stevens may find some support in the Pacific Northwest.

But Washington wants to take no chances with the waters and shores of Puget Sound. And Sen. Stevens is accused of invading a colleague's backyard, never a popular move in the closely guarded waters of Senate protocol. That's the kind of power play that doesn't go down well in Alaska, Washington or anywhere else.

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