Murkowski Energy Bill Avoids Hot Buttons

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today released a national energy policy bill. It’s been one of her highest priorities as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and she produced the bill jointly with the top Democrat on the committee, Maria Cantwell of Washington. Murkowski says it required compromise; the bill doesn’t include some of the big items on Murkowski’s energy agenda.

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This bill is heavy on energy efficiency and weatherization, modernizing the electric grid and new technologies. Murkowski says she wants a bill that can actually pass.

“This has been an effort through months and months to find common ground on energy issues that not only impact Alaskans, but impact people around the country.”

It’s a pragmatist’s bill designed for a polarized Congress. It does not include controversies like the Keystone XL Pipeline and offshore revenue-sharing for states, let alone anything that would open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. It also does not include one of Murkowski’s biggest national priorities – ending the ban on exporting crude oil. The senator says she’ll work on that separately.

“What you will see is a base bill that is bipartisan in nature, that does not have everything that I would like, but it doesn’t have everything the other side would like. That’s the nature of legislation.”

The bill doesn’t direct federal resources to Alaska, or create Alaska-only programs. That would trigger the congressional ban on earmarking. But Murkowski and her staff say the bill has provisions Alaska is well positioned to benefit from. It authorizes federal research on geothermal energy, for instance, and promotes the development of hybrid micro-grid systems, like the wind-and-diesel combos that now power some Alaska villages. It supports state energy programs with loan guarantees, and includes training to produce workers who can build and maintain modern power systems. It doesn’t have financing for the big Alaska natural gas pipeline, but it does speed up the processing of LNG export permits.

The Senate Energy Committee will take the bill up next week, and after that it will go to the Senate floor, where, Murkowski, senators will be allowed to offer amendments.

“I’ve said before this is not a messaging bill, this is a time to update energy policy, and we’re doing it in the regular course of business.”

Murkowski says the bill would reclassify hydropower as a renewable energy.

She’s especially proud that the bill would repeal lots of old and redundant energy laws. That, she says, will cut down on the scores of reports Congress requires the Energy Department to produce that no one reads.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz