Murkowski’s Energy Manifesto Hiding in Plain Sight
The following is a special report, which CQ Roll Call subscribers received last week.
There’s plenty of speculation about what Republicans will do on energy in the 114th Congress, and while a lot of details remain to be sorted out, the House and Senate chairs with primary jurisdiction have dropped plenty of hints about their thinking.
Incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has been hiding her agenda in plain sight since February 2013, when she unveiled Energy 2020: a Vision for America’s Energy Future.
When she gets the gavel, Murkowski’s plan will be nearly two years old. But she has clarified that Energy 2020, which she recently called “a 115-page beautiful treatise on what a good solid energy policy will be,” marks her starting point for next year. “It will be policy that is focused on abundance, affordability, clean energy sources, diverse energy sources and security,” she said recently.
Aware of the mammoth energy packages that have sunk under their own weight in recent years, Murkowski’s plan calls for “discrete” energy bills. She’s also expected to use what she calls “targeted oversight” to build the case for her own policy preferences and to push back against administration ones she opposes.
Remember this about Murkowski: she’ll wield two key gavels in the 114th Congress: Energy and Natural Resources and the Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee. As the top authorizer and appropriator over key energy agencies, she’ll have an oversized role in shaping policy.
Agencies under her jurisdiction will want good relationships with Murkowski, who has shown a willingness to work behind the scenes to achieve sound policy objectives. She has a close working relationship with Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, but her ties to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell have frayed over the administration’s opposition to a proposed road through a remote Alaskan wildlife refuge. Murkowski sees the road as a life-and-death issue for local residents.
— Oil/Natural Gas: Murkowski is unabashedly pro-drilling, and can be expected to press to open up more federal lands to oil and gas production. With the Interior Department readying a new five-year offshore drilling plan, Murkowski will seek to facilitate development of her state’s Arctic region, already a major flashpoint between the Obama administration and environmentalists, who say production poses too many risks. She’ll press to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as to expand leasing of the National Petroleum Reserveâ€Alaska. Murkowski supports greater sharing of federal oil and gas royalties with state and local governments.
— Infrastructure: Republicans have already made clear an early item on the energy agenda will be approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. With an Alaskan in charge of the Energy Committee, we may hear about another pipeline: the proposed 800-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas from the North Slope to Cook Inlet for export. There’s certain to be plenty of bureaucratic slowdowns along the way for the roughly $45 billion to $65 billion project and Murkowski will be positioned to lean on federal agencies along the way. More broadly, Murkowski’s energy plan calls for reforming the permitting and review processes for infrastructure projects, areas that will draw scrutiny on both sides of the Capitol next year.
— Exports: The pro-export Murkowski will be at the table for discussions between the administration and Congress on legislation to expedite liquefied natural gas exports. She has urged the Obama administration to ease crude oil export restrictions through its existing power, personally making her case to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker . The push for administrative action reflects the caution with which Republicans are handling crude exports. Legislation repealing the export ban entirely will likely be a long-term effort, as supporters look to build a case that doing so won’t push prices at the pump up for American voters.
— Coal: Murkowski will push policies to ensure continued use of the U.S.’s vast coal reserves, with an eye for doing it more cleanly by developing carbon capture technologies. Among the items in her energy plan are easing restrictions on federal procurement of coal-based fuels; a broadening of the Energy Department’s coal research and development programs; providing more certainty to the mine permitting process; and encouraging coal exports. She’s also signaled that electric reliability will be a focus in the next two years, providing a forum for coal plants feeling the bite of multiple EPA utility rules.
— Renewables/Efficiency: Murkowski has been far more open to renewable energy sources than most Republicans. Reflecting the current GOP skepticism toward federal renewable incentives and mandates, her energy strategy calls for encouraging renewable energy through increased spending on energy research, especially into storage. Specifically, her plan would create an Advanced Energy Trust Fund for alternative technologies, funded in part by federal energy revenue. She espouses a new perspective on “clean energy,” which she argues should be defined as “less intensive in global life cycle impacts on human health and the environment than its likeliest alternative.” Murkowski also supports changes to the renewable fuels standard and DOE’s loan guarantee program.
— Nuclear: Murkowski backs federal investment in new nuclear technologies, including for small modular reactors. Her biggest potential contribution to nuclear power, however, is her bipartisan work to break the logjam on nuclear waste storage. She’s a co-sponsor of a nuclear waste overhaul (S 1240) that would implement recommendations of a commission convened to hatch a new disposal framework. The challenge for that effort remains convincing Yucca Mountain supporters to support legislative changes that set a course for a new disposal strategy while preserving a role for the facility deep beneath the Nevada desert.
— Climate Change: Murkowski is one of the few Republicans willing to discuss the changing climate unprompted. While she once co-sponsored a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill offered by Senate centrists, she’s now squarely opposed to carbon pricing. Her energy plan instead calls for federal policies that would stimulate clean energy sources through research funding, financing new technologies and temporary subsidies. She also supports giving states flexibility on new climate policies.