The trouble with Ted

Everyone from Mitch McConnell to Sarah Palin is lining up to stick the boot into Ted Stevens, the 84-year-old Alaskan senator who was convicted this week on seven felony charges for failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations paid for by oilman Bill Allen. Fair enough, of course; when all’s said and done, an illegal ethics violation is an illegal ethics violation. Still, there’s a sizable group of greens who are expressing mixed feelings about the veteran lawmaker’s apparently imminent political demise.

Stevens - a fierce advocate of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and logging in the Tongass National Forest - is an unlikely figure for anyone in the environmental movement to be championing. Some of the handwringing may stem from the fact that Stevens has been one of the few longtime climate skeptics to reassess their views in the face of new evidence; last year, he grudgingly admitted: “We’ve got global climate change … and part of it may be, I believe, called by the accumulation of the activities of man.” Since his climate u-turn, Stevens has put his money where his mouth is, introducing a new fuel-economy bill to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles, and voting for renewable energy, biofuels and wetlands conservation legislation.

Perhaps more importantly, Stevens has also been a powerful advocate for fisheries and ocean conservation during his time in the Senate, pushing through dozens of important bills including the Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which oversees the US fishing industry and sets catch limits in a bid to preserve stocks. "When Ted Stevens leaves, there is going to be a tremendous vacuum in fisheries policy and ocean management because he really did accept responsibility, for better or for worse, for all the oceans," Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana, told E&E this week.

Stevens’ Democratic rival, Mark Begich, might well take up some of Stevens’ trademark issues if he defeats the Republican in next week’s election. It’s clear, though, that he’d have less influence than Stevens, who’s variously held key positions on the appropriations, commerce, science and transportation committees. None of this cancels out Stevens’ transgressions, of course, and it’s almost certain that his position as a senator has become untenable; it’s worth noting, though, that as and when Stevens bows out, he will - in some quarters, at least - be sorely missed.

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