Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reflections in Blue and Green, 5

              The Senator
    He sat at a large desk in a suite of offices on the fifth floor of the Hart Building in Washington, D.C. A small man, he seemed further diminished by the Alaskana all around him - flags, baseball caps, color photographs of unblemished nature, baleen carved with native scenes. Ted Stevens, a Republican, was a member of the Interior appropriations committee and chairman of the Rules Committee and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation sub-committee on federal fisheries. "Stevens gets even" had been the word on the Hill for years and stories of his rough treatment of opponents in Alaska are legion.
    Stevens was able to prevent a study of fish propagation on the Tongass, which might have limited the Forest Service cut there. He attached language to an appropriations bill instructing the Forest Service to encourage "old growth diversification projects" that would redound to the benefit of the Alaska Pulp Corporation, and to aid in a land swap to give the company federal land it occupied.  
    He also attempted in 1994 to deny funds to the Forest Service for  implementing wildlife and other environmental standards already mandated by Congress. He failed, but not quietly. "I regret," he said in a long, rancorous speech on the Senate floor, "that it is necessary once again this year to take the Senate's time to discuss issues pertaining to the Tongass National Forest."
     The amendment would have prohibited the expenditure of funds to implement what Stevens incorrectly called "brand new management practices," including habitat conservation areas he deplored. The occasional association of the fishing industry in Alaska with the conservation movement discomforts the state's long-standing extractive alliance. The PACFISH study Stevens sought to block would have increased the buffers beside streams from 100 to 300 feet.                      
     Most fishermen in Alaska, including the trollers that employed about one out of every 25 Alaskans, favored PACFISH, but the senator's actions were endorsed by Alaska's other senator, Frank Murkowski, chairman of Energy and Natural Resources, and by Alaska's sole congressman, Don Young, the House Natural Resources Committee chairman. This was the first time in history that all the nation's natural resources came under the aegis of politicians from a single state, and never had they been less qualified to deal with them.
     Young, during a congressional hearing, had brandished an 18-inch walrus penis while berating an Interior official for suggesting that natives should not be allowed to sell animal parts. "This is a government agency getting involved in something it shouldn't," Young had shouted.
     He regularly characterized government biologists who listed animals as endangered as "idiots" and criticized what he called "the self-centered bunch, the waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual bunch of idiots that don't understand that they're leading this country into environmental disaster."                     

     Young had removed the word "public" from various public lands sub-committees, and referred to Democrats as "socialists." This was pre-Monica, but retribution was definitely in the air. The balanced budget amendment would soon be passed and the government temporarily shut down; reviews of logging in the Pacific Northwest were full of acrimony, as were discussions of sport hunting in Yellowstone, national forests and parks being turned over to the states, more clear-cutting, oil exploration, and floating horizontal skyscrapers, known as cruise ships, in the Inland Passage.
     Young, Murkowski and Stevens were grounded in the politics and social rigidity of the Fifties, the decade when the Forest Service began to go wrong and the Tongass timber contracts came into existence. Their greatest opprobrium was reserved for what they called "extreme environmentalists." The time was coming, Stevens said in the Senate, "when I am going to start making some of these people tell the truth. We could have some laws passed that would put some teeth into what they can and cannot do in the Halls of Congress."
     Few issues had affected Stevens more than the cancellation of the Alaska Pulp Corporation's long-term contract. "The fact that the Sitka mill is closed shows the duplicity of the opponents," Stevens told me. "For years they have been saying we should have a more environmentally sound approach, and we have pursued that."
     His use of the possessive reflected years of championing the APC, KPC, and other commercial enterprises, with conviction. I suggested that APC and KPC had enjoyed a de facto subsidy for nearly 40 years. "Bullshit!" said the senator.
     An aide was holding his coat, since he was bound for a vote on the Senate floor. "Subsidies come out of the United States Treasury. These were competitive bids based on a concept of pricing from the past."
I pointed out that the price depended on the company's profits, and these were nonexistent on paper, according to the Forest Service's own suppressed report.
     "Horse shit!" Stevens had for years demanded and received from the Forest Service regular reports on the Tongass cut. No other senator took such an active role in the management of a single national forest, the size and magnificence of which, like the health of the things living there, made it unique.
      By now he had an arm in the coat. He gestured with the other. "It was an evolving price," he shouted. "The finances of APC have been more responsible than the federal government's."
     "Senator," said the aide. "The vote..."
     "If this generation didn't like the contract, they should have tried to rewrite it." Rewriting would have allowed APC to continue cutting trees on an exclusive, below cost basis. "Those environmentalists are..."
     "... revisionists!" And he passed beneath a 10-foot Haida totem pole, the aide still attempting to sheath his other arm.                  
         Next: The Goshawk Chronicles

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