Stevens puts missile defense, ANWR atop list
Funds to begin construction of a radar station at Shemya as part of a National Missile Defense system should be released "by the end of March," according to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
Stevens, a Republican, considers the missile defense system one of his top priorities for 2001. Also on his list: pushing for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration; settling issues dealing with Alaska fisheries; and supporting construction of a natural gas pipeline.
But Stevens warned that getting Alaska issues approved in a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats may be difficult, and that much of his agenda will depend on President Bush’s policies and budget, which won’t be spelled out in detail for several months.
"All our priorities will have to wait a while," Stevens said.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal, Stevens was clearly delighted with the new Bush administration.
"The difference is a matter of attitude," Stevens said. "(Bush) is a Westerner. We’ll be listened to and consulted before they take any action concerning Alaska."
He added that after eight years of the Clinton administration, "people are smiling around here."
Stevens pronounced himself satisfied with the Bush appointments to key Cabinet positions, such as the Interior and Energy departments. He described Gale Norton, the nominee for Interior Secretary, as "a bright, bright, strong woman. It’s what we need in fighting the trends of the last eight years."
He had similar praise for Edward Spencer Abraham, selected by Bush to be Energy Secretary, whom he described as "a close personal friend." Stevens predicted both Abraham and Norton will be confirmed, even though "there will be a fuss -- there’s always a fuss."
Stevens made national headlines last month when he held up passage of the federal budget in order to secure a compromise over fishing closures that threatened to cripple the cod and pollock fisheries.
That compromise delays -- but does not eliminate -- a series of steps designed to preserve dwindling numbers of Steller sea lions. What’s his game plan for 2001? "To try to get some science," Stevens said. Part of the compromise included funding for studies of how fishing affects the food supply of the sea lions.
The restrictions include 20-mile no-fishing zones around sea lion rookeries, a distance that Stevens said was arbitrarily chosen.
"That’s what the extreme environmentalists asked for and that’s what they got," he said. He added that his hope is that with further study the size of the no-fishing zones could be reduced.
As for the missile defense system, Stevens clearly believes that it will move forward, since the incoming Bush administration has publicly supported it. While debate continues over whether such a system would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the former Soviet Union, Stevens said he expects a key element of the system -- a radar site on Shemya Island in the Aleutians -- to move forward soon.
"Construction of the radar in and of itself is not a violation of the ABM treaty until it is integrated into a defense system," Stevens said.
He pointed out that funds for the radar have been approved by Congress and simply need to be released by the Bush administration.
Stevens said the missile system poses no political problem, citing a recent national poll showing 65 percent of Americans support the idea. "I expect soon to get the decision for Shemya to go ahead," Stevens said, adding that by "soon" he meant "by the end of March."
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stevens has successfully steered hundreds of millions of dollars to Alaska each year for a variety of road and military construction projects. He said the just-completed budget contains funding for fiscal 2001, which ends in October.
"Now we’re working on 2002," Stevens said. "I expect levels to be approximately the same as last year."