Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been a member of the Senate for 34 years, making him the fifth most senior member among his colleagues, and first among Republicans. He is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, responsible for annually allocating more than a half-trillion dollars in Federal funds among various government programs, agencies, and departments. Stevens also serves on the appropriations subcommittees of Interior, Defense, and Commerce. He is president pro tempore, and as such he presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice president, and is the third person in the line of succession for the Presidency, following the Vice president and the speaker of the house. Senator Stevens is married to Catherine Ann Chandler. Washington Life's Editor in Chief Nancy Bagley had the opportunity to speak with Senator Stevens for a few moments on his 80th birthday.
Washington Life: You recently received a Congressional Champion Award from the National Coalition for Cancer Research for your help in increasing government funds to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute. Why is this issue so important to you?
Senator Ted Stevens: I watched my grandfather, my father, and my eldest brother die of pancreatic cancer. When loved ones die, it gets you interested.
WL: It's been written that you really enjoy fishing. What kind of fishing?
TS: Any kind of fishing. I have fished ever since I was a little boy in Annapolis. We'd ride our bicycles up to the river, fish for bass and camp on the riverbank. As a matter a fact, that is one of the things that kept me in Alaska. My family fishes, and I like to hunt too.
WL: Being a fisherman, are you concerned that the populations of wild salmon and other aquatic populations have dramatically declined in the last 50 years?
TS: Well, let me tell you, our salmon is more plentiful than any salmon on earth. We have worked hard to restore the habitat for our Big King salmon. We don't raise farmed salmon in Alaska. It is all wild. Our problem is the overwhelming impact of imported salmon from Chile, Thailand, and other places where they are raising farmed salmon. Our fisherman are suffering because the price of wild salmon has been cut so drastically by the foreign imports of farmed salmon.
WL: Would you consider yourself a Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican— a conservationist in the sense that you believe our remaining wild places should remain wild as a treasure and legacy for our children and grandchildren?
TS: I think that there are places that should be set aside for wilderness, and I think there are some exceptions. For instance, we asked for one and a half million acres of this one area of the Arctic to be open for oil and gas exploration, but we have fought for 22 years to be able to drill. It was not set aside for a wild refuge; it was set aside for oil and gas exploration. I am very proud of what we have done for protection in our state. We set aside 100-million acres in Alaska for wild scenic rivers, national parks, wildlife refugees, wilderness areas, and national forests.
WL: Are you a supporter of investing in alternative energy technologies to alleviate the pressure to drill in our wild lands?
TS: Yes. We are experimenting on using new forms of used coal, but we are also experimenting in other forms of energy. I believe that nanotechnology is the future. It will create energy sources by combining types and substances that otherwise would be volatile. We're financing a great deal of nano research. Are you familiar with nanotechnology? It is technology at the level of one billionth of a measurement of a meter or an inch, and it is talking about getting down to molecular combinations. It is an exciting thing of the future.
WL: Do you think we should be subsidizing dollar-for-dollar alternative clean energy sources to the same degree we have subsidized dirty energy sources such as oil, coal, and gas over the past few decades?
TS: We don't really subsidize coal or oil anymore. There are some tax credits for those who have drilled wells, and their wells go down in the number of barrels per day [that they produce]. The subsidies are now all on the renewable energy sources, like solar and on ethanol. It remains to be seen how much the public is going to like ethanol.
WL: The nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters has said that the Bush Administration has the worst environmental record of any president in the history of this nation? Does this seem fair to you?
TS: They are partisan. Tell them to show you a republican president that they have endorsed in the last 20 years.
WL: They (LCV) have endorsed many republican senators, and members of congress over the years who support legislation protecting our environment.
TS: Well, I can name one [senator] that they've never endorsed.