THE BLOG

Senator Ted Stevens' (Non-) Environmental Legacy -- And The Alaska Senate Race

Aug 07, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens -- the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and a longtime thorn in the side of enviros -- was indicted today.

A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., charged the 84-year-old senator with seven counts of making false statements on his financial disclosure forms between 1999 to 2006 in order to conceal gifts and in-kind services from the oil-field engineering firm VECO Corp. and its CEO, Bill Allen.

The indictment charges that Allen and other VECO employees were soliciting Stevens for "multiple official actions ... knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period." VECO won millions of dollars in federal contracts during the period in question.

According to CBS News, "VECO's requests included funding and other aid for the oil-services company's projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia. It also included federal grants from several agencies -- as well as help in building a [natural] gas pipeline in Alaska's North Slope Region."

Stevens has a long record of steering federal money to his home state (remember the "Bridge to Nowhere"?), a practice that has brought him under scrutiny in other instances -- and earned him the nickname "Uncle Ted" among his constituents.

The Justice Department has also been looking into whether Stevens pushed through fisheries legislation that benefited his son, Ben Stevens, a lobbyist and former state senator. The younger Stevens worked as a consultant to the fishing industry, which has benefited from legislation authored by the senior Stevens that steered $180 million in earmarks to the industry. This includes a $30 million fund to market Alaskan seafood, which his son got to direct to companies -- including some that were his clients. Ben Stevens also did consulting work for VECO while serving in the state Senate, and has been implicated in the company's corruption scandal.

While Ted Stevens denies any wrongdoing, he will turn himself in and will not be arrested. Filing a false financial disclosure statement can result in civil and criminal penalties and up to five years in prison.

Stevens can continue to serve in the Senate, but under Republican Party rules, he'll have to give up his spot as ranking Republican on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

The Alaska Senate race

The big question is whether Stevens will give up his race for reelection. He has represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate since 1968, and has been reelected by comfortable margins each time, but even before today's news, this year's race was expected to be a squeaker.

If Stevens sticks it out, he'll first face a challenge in the Aug. 26 Republican primary from former state legislator Dave Cuddy, who previously ran (and lost) against Stevens in the 1996 primary.

The Democratic challenger for Stevens' seat is Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, whom Grist interviewed last week. Begich is making climate change a top campaign issue, calling for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. He's also calling for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for efficiency improvements that would reduce energy consumption 25 percent by 2018. Still, like Stevens, Begich wants oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Even before today's indictment, polls were putting Begich slightly ahead, and Democrats had been viewing this race as one of their best opportunities to pick up a seat in November.

Stevens' environmental legacy

The League of Conservation Voters has given Stevens a 14 percent lifetime voting score on environmental issues. Here's a short list of some of his environment-related endeavors:

  • Stevens has led the charge to open the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas exploration -- probably what he's best known for in green circles.

  • In 2002, he said, "Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world." Last year, he cosponsored a moderate, compromise climate bill drafted by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.). But he's questioned the degree to which climate change is human-caused, and even come up with his own wacky climate-change theory.

  • He tried to weaken organic-labeling standards for salmon in order to help the Alaska seafood industry.
  • He used his position on the Appropriations Committee to try to prevent the federal government from spending any money to study and protect fish habitat in the North Pacific.
  • He tried to prevent the feds from listing the Steller sea lion as endangered.
  • He has pushed to increase logging in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.
  • In 2007, he shocked and delighted enviros by introducing legislation to raise fuel-economy standards for passenger cars to an average of 40 miles per gallon in 10 years.
  • On his website today, here's what Stevens had to say about his record as a senator and the indictment: "I have proudly served this nation and Alaska for over 50 years. My public service began when I served in World War II. It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me. I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. Senator. ... I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that."