Conservation League gives Alaska Congressional delegation low scores

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual scorecard ranking members of Congress for their environmental record. Per usual, the league gave the all-Republican Alaska Congressional delegation low scores.

The group, which describes itself as the political arm of the national environmental community, gave Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski a zero. Rep. Don Young got a score of 7 percent despite his sponsorship of one of the most comprehensive land reform bills in years, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

Young scored low because he's out of step when it comes to protecting public health, the league said Tuesday.

Young contends that the organization is essentially a Democratic political action committee despite its claims to be nonpartisan. It fails to score votes that might give Republicans some credit for protecting the environment, Young said.

Sen. Frank Murkowski Murkowski was singled out for criticism by the league in its summaries of three- of seven scored Senate votes.

Murkowski drew fire for his actions on nuclear waste management, hard rock mining management and oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski has worked to accelerate the date when power plants can start shipping nuclear waste to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

President Clinton earlier this year vetoed Murkowski's bill that would have allowed Yucca Mountain to start accepting waste within a few years.

The League said Murkowski's bill would have allowed deliveries before construction at Yucca Mountain was complete. But Chuck Kleeschulte, Murkowski's spokesman, said deliveries to Yucca could have started only after the facility was licensed, so there would have been no question that the site was the waste's eventual destination, anyway.

''We can't close our eyes and let it remain at 80 sites in 41 states,'' Kleeschulte said. It needs to be moved from those temporary storage sites, Murkowski has said, because they are filling up and are far less safe than even an unfinished Yucca Mountain.

The League also criticized Murkowski for trying to block new hard rock mining rules on federal lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The new rules would increase cleanup bonding and insurance requirements before mining starts, limit disposal of waste classified as toxic and allow the BLM to stop some mines in environmentally sensitive areas, the League said.

The League also scored a vote that Murkowski engineered this spring on drilling in ANWR.

Murkowski amended the annual budget resolution to count on revenues from oil lease sales in ANWR. A conference committee later dropped the language.

While this provision was not binding, it would have been a first step toward passage of broader legislation allowing drilling in the refuge, the league said.

Murkowski makes no apologies for trying to open the refuge to environmentally sensitive drilling, Kleeschulte said.

While mentioning none of the Alaska delegation by name, the League also criticized an earmark that Stevens placed in the Interior appropriations bill directing $5 million to timber sales in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska's Southeast.

The League claimed that the U.S. Forest Service lost $1 billion on timber sales nationwide between 1995 and 1997 and that the Tongass was one of the biggest expense areas.

It scored a vote on a bipartisan attempt to cut $25 million from timber sale funding nationally and the $5 million in the Tongass.

Kleeschulte said the $5 million from Stevens was to redraw smaller sales as proscribed by the new Tongass forest management plan.

He also said the league's scorecard was contrived.

''In a year when Sen. Murkowski was a sponsor of CARA (the Conservation and Reinvestment Act), the largest environmental bill in history, we find the zero score ridiculous,'' Kleeschulte said.

Stevens said he votes to ensure that Alaskans have the authority to develop state resources as they see fit. ''I will always vote to preserve those rights,'' Stevens said.

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