Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) yesterday accused Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) of deliberately sabotaging a last-minute compromise bill that would have ended the seven-year controversy over preserving vast parts of Alaska as conversation areas.
Stevens charged that Gravel "blew the whole thing" in an ad hoe House-Senate conference Saturday, the day befofre adjournment, by offering extreme and unacceptable amendments, contradicting his earlier agreement to support Stevens' efforts to get a bill passed this year.
The failure of Congress to meet its Dec. 18 deadline, set in 1971, for settling the Alaska lands issue opens the way for presidential action to protect almost 100 million acres of Alaska wilderness and parkland from development, an action that Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus is expected to recommend next week.
Gravel had pledged to filibuster any Alaska bill that reached the Senate floor this year, and tried for months to thwart Stevens' work with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on softening some of the restrictions that a House measure would have imposed on development and use of the areas.
Gravel changed his position because some groups in the state had tempered their opposition, an aide said yesterday, and promised in Oct 12 letters to Stevens and Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to support Stevens' compromise efforts.
"There's no question in my mind that Sen. Gravel torpedoed the bill," Rep. John F. Seiberling (D-Ohio) said by telephone from his district office yesterday. Seiberling, one of the main sponsors of the House bill and a member of the ad hoc conference, said he believed Gravel "dropped his filibuster because he figured out a better way" to prevent passage.
"We thought it only fair to give Sen. Stevens a fair shot and withdraw the filibuster threat," Gravel aide Pate Pourchot explained yesterday, but Gravel had "several points he wanted included in the final bill" that Seiberling and Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) refused to accept.
Stevense said he thought he erred in inviting Gravel to the conference but "his letter led me to believe there would be no obstacles to passage of the bill."
After blocking the major bill, Gravel on Sunday opposed a substitute proposed by other members of the ad hoc conference that would have extended the Dec. 18 deadline and protected 120 million acres of Alaska.
Meanwhile, conservationist supporters of the House measure blame Stevens for the absence of a bill this year, according to Charles Clusen of the Alaska Coalition. Stevens' participation with the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which he is not a member, delayed the matter, Clusen said.
"We know we can get a strong bill, regardless of what Stevens agrees to," Clusen said. "It's unfortunate he played such an obstructionist role."