Catching up with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)

29 October 08 | Posted in Events, Legislation, Sin Bin

30 years ago this month I left Alaska. I left to get an emotional break from a sad divorce, and an even more draining fight over an Alaska lands bill in Congress.

Ultimately, millions of acres were “protected” or “locked-up” –depending on your point of view–because what constituted “good management” of federal lands could never be agreed upon by residents, elected representatives, government bureaucrats, environmentalists and developers.

The congressional delegation could have played a role here, in getting all parties to the table to hammer out a solution that would bring energy resources,  jobs, safeguard the most sensitive areas, and protect the traditional rights of the native people.  They did not, largely because they hated environmentalists so much, and wanted no restraints on economic development.

Alaska’s congressional delegation was rabidly pro-development, especially Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Stevens and Young never met an oil corporation, mining outfit, construction company, or logging group they didn’t like. 

I can think of very few U.S. senators disliked more by the Sierra Club than Ted Stevens.

Now he’s headed out the door.

Sen. Stevens, 84, was found guilty of violating federal ethics laws by failing to report over $250,000 in gifts and services he had received from friends, most notably Bill Allen, the former president of VECO Corporation, an Alaskan oil pipeline services and construction company.

A lot of these “gifts” were used to renovate and furnish Stevens’ home in Girdwood, Alaska.

Mr. Allen wore a wire for the Feds in his conversations with Stevens. Allen was convicted for his role in a scheme to bribe Alaska lawmakers to help with his oil exploration projects. stevens-courtpreview.jpg

Stevens was finally shown to be a bully and cheap hustler. He promoted legislation benefiting his oil company friends, and traded his influence for furniture and home remodeling at the expense of  Alaskan working people he always proported to support.

It would have been “business suicide” to cross Bill Allen, testified the Augie Paone, the carpenter who renovated Sen. Ted Stevens’ home in Alaska and who said he was bullied into not sending the senator a final bill of $13,393. Allen told him he should “eat” the final bill from the home renovations.

Paone testified that he objected to “eating” the bill for work at Stevens’ home and said so in a meeting with Allen, who told the carpenter he should “look at it as a political contribution,” Paone said.

“At first I was shocked,” Paone said. “I also tried to hold on to my composure. I knew I was in a bind, because I knew he had me in a spot where I really couldn’t do anything.”

The great irony of Sen. Stevens’ tragedy is that with his political demise, it may tip the balance to the Democrats, helping them to win enough seats to give them a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes.

Just imagine what kind of environmental legislation could be passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House.

It’s gonna be tough sledding for some folks in Alaska….

White House Blocks Scientific Testimony on Global Warming

Jason Burnett, 31, a Stamford-trained economist, was until June 9 a senior official with the Environmental Protection Agency. He resigned, and is spending some time working for the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

Apparently, he wasn’t regarded highly by environmentalists on his appointment to the EPA, but he should be one of their biggest heros, now.

Burnett charges that Vice President Cheney’s office urged him to delete or water down testimony to Congress by top administration officials on the impacts of global warming.

Burnett also said the White House blocked an effort by EPA to issue an endangerment finding, a conclusion that climate change is a threat to the public. Under a Supreme Court ruling last year, the finding would have forced the administration to cut emissions.

In October 2007, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding was scheduled to testify before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. Burnett said he was asked by Cheney’s office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to “work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of human health consequences of climate change.”

Burnett refused, saying the testimony was “fundamentally accurate.” It included examples of how climate change is likely to have “a significant impact” on public health.

But the Office of Management and Budget later deleted six of twelve pages of testimony, including sections suggesting climate change could lead to a rise in infectious diseases, air pollution, food and water scarcity and extreme weather events.

The issue of whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare is significant because a finding by the EPA that they do would require the agency to regulate them under the terms of the federal Clean Air Act, spurring new rules across a range of industries.

Environmentalists, Congressional Democrats, and officials in more than a dozen states have sought to prod the EPA to reach a decision on the matter, following a Supreme Court ruling last year that greenhouse gases are pollutants and can be regulated under EPA’s existing authority. greenhouse-gas.jpg

But the Bush administration has resisted, arguing that the economy-wide regulations of such emissions could cripple the U.S. economy.

Burnett said he was told to retract the document because a bill to raise fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, which was moving through Congress at the time, would make the endangerment finding moot. But he said the logic was flawed.

“The energy bill did not change the science, it did not change the law,” Burnett said, adding, “EPA still has a responsibility to respond to the Supreme Court.”

The Oil Price Conundrum

Oil prices have gone up dramatically, impacting the cost of everything: filling up the gas tank, the cost of food, heating your home, airline travel.

It has impacted food in another way–farmers, especially agribusiness, are opting to plant crops for fuel rather than food production. Those choices are felt hard now in countries like Haiti. Some protests ended in food riots.

Why have oil prices gone up so much in the last year? Part of it is speculation. Oil and energy traders have driven up the price, betting that oil prices will continue to rise. Because regulatory measures are ineffective, government can’t intervene to stop the cycle. gas-prices.jpg

There is also supply and demand. China, India and other developing countries have developed a thirst for oil to rival that of the U.S. Demand for cheap Asian goods has fueled explosive growth in factories and a new consumer class. Now that transportation costs have risen, that growth may slow down a hair.

More oil and refined products are needed, but the supply isn’t easily or cheaply available. Iraq produces one million barrels a day less in 2008 than it did in 1990. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Range and off the coasts of California and Florida will supply millions of barrels, but it will be costly given legal challenges by homeowners, municipalities, environmental groups and others. Anyway, coastal and wilderness drilling is not a long-term solution as much as a short-term political fix.

Food, energy, land use, allocation and consumption of resources–are global as well as U.S. social justice issues.  The oil price conundrum is far more complex than a simple statement on the evils of abortion.

What about the evils of no food, no heat and not enough money to pay for them; oil slick birds, dirty shoreline, filthy water–weighed against Exxon Mobil setting an annual profit record by earning $40.61 billion last year.  Is it time for the bishops to speak up?

Catholicism in the U.S. especially the hierarchy, seems stuck on abortion and same-sex marriage. Should abortion continue to be the #1 issue on the bishops’ political agenda, or should it be natural resources management? Which impacts the “dignity of the human person” more? Which kills more innocent children–abortion; or starvation, malnutrition, and lack of clean water?

As a start, I suggest we support our bishops if they call on all Catholics to do the following:

– Conserve energy by driving less, and walking or taking public transportation more. This includes bishops, their staff, and diocesan managers.

– Pressure legislators to reduce unnecessary tax advantages and credits for oil companies; and initiate oversight into unregulated energy markets. Publicize these efforts in Diocesan papers and parish bulletins.

-Study and develop teaching on the interconnecting issues of food and fuel and how they impact the most vulnerable–children, poor people, the elderly, people on public assistance or disability payments, immigrants–through price increases and increased pollution.

Expand this working group beyond bishops to include laity, including energy traders, oil company executives, small scale farmers, social workers, and environmentalists. Many perspectives “from the ground” are needed to develop a realistic and positive solution.