Alaska's governor and senators quit trying to agree with environmentalists on the Alaska lands bill yesterday, calling for defeat of a compromise package that emerged after nearly a week of talks.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said the compromise "will not have sufficient concessions and I cannot support it." Gov. Jay S. Hammond told a news conference that the package did not address Alaska's need in four key areas: timber, hunting, mining, and oil and gas development.
These same areas have been at issue for the four-year history of this legislation, which would assign varying levels of environmental protection to more than 100 million acres of untouched territory in Alaska.
Hammond urged Stevens to join Alaska's other senator, Democrat Mike Gravel, who has steadfastly opposed any bill, in "applying all means at their disposal" to defeat the package expected to be offered by Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.). "This is not so much a no-bill strategy," Hammond said. "In view of the progress to date, it appears that an acceptable bill is not attainable."
Stevens said that the negotiators "came more than halfway" toward meeting his demand for additional timber-cutting acreage in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, "but anything short of 450 million board feet is not enough." Similarly, he said, Tsongas and Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) had offered "pieces of areas" as additional territory to be opened to mining, "but not enough to win my support."
Stevens stressed that no final agreements had been reached by the negotiators when he left the talks convinced he could not win."I have argued and argued and argued and won no concessions," he said.
Environmentalists were also uneasy with the reports of any concessions to Stevens "It's safe to say that whatever they agreed to this afternoon is not enough," said Charles Clusen, head of the Alaska coalition of 52 environmental groups.
He said he would wait for the written details before making a final judgement, but would be willing to accept a less-than-perfect Senate measure to take to conference with the House version passed last year. There he would except the House version to prevail, he said. "I would be very surprised if they have worked out something I can accept as a final position," he said of the senators.
Clusen left open the possibility that his group might join Stevens in opposing the entire measure, despite the fact that Tsongas has been the group's champion through most of this fight.
In conference between Senate and House, the environmentalists appear to hold most of the cards, the product of a massive mail and lobbying campaign nationwide. Thousands of letters warned the Senators that this was what President Carter had called the environmental vote of the century.
Test votes last week stunned Stevens and other backers of a Senate Energy Committee package offered by Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) that would have been less environmentally restrictive. Faced with defeat, Stevens threatened to filibuster and drove the bill into closed door negotiations, but yesterday he seemed to give up.