Sen. Murkowski's fresh energy plan to look beyond 2012

WASHINGTON Thu May 24, 2012 6:57pm EDT

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (2nd R), and Sen. Judd Gregg (3rd R) talk after meeting with President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators to discuss passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation in Washington, June 29, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (2nd R), and Sen. Judd Gregg (3rd R) talk after meeting with President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators to discuss passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation in Washington, June 29, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Frustrated by the gridlock that has stalled Congress leading into the 2012 presidential elections in November, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee is drafting what she hopes is a fresh look at the big-picture energy policy.

Details are still under wraps, but Senator Lisa Murkowski plans to unveil this summer a long-term vision with affordable energy at its core, a plan she has been working on with her staff for the past eight months.

"I want to get out front early next year and move on some energy issues. I think we're well overdue for some real energy proposals that can give us some good clear guidance," Murkowski told Reuters.

Murkowski, 55, relishes the prospect of setting the agenda on energy policy. She is in line to be chairman of the energy committee if Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate, where they currently hold 53 of 100 seats.

She said her plan could eventually lead to several legislative initiatives, and will cover everything from increasing oil and gas production to improving energy efficiency to updating the transmission and storage grid.

It also aims to reduce the uncertainty in short-term incentives aimed at increasing wind and solar power, she said.

Ultimately, Murkowski believes that energy policy requires a holistic approach and she hopes her plan will act as a guiding document for action next year.

"I think you need to understand it in its totality, so I'd like to be able to present it that way," Murkowski said.

SLIPPING TO THIRD PLACE

It's no surprise that Murkowski, who represents Alaska, wants to see more oil and gas production.

Her state has long been the second-largest oil producer in the nation, so headlines earlier this month that put North Dakota's oil production ahead of Alaska's had Murkowski beside herself.

"It drives me crazy," she said, noting the state could produce more were it not for federal blocks to drilling onshore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore in the Arctic.

"I wanted to fly back home and say, 'Get on the move everybody! We just lost!'" she said.

SHELL IN THE ARCTIC

An effort that may help Alaska reclaim its old spot in energy production, is Royal Dutch Shell's long stymied bid to tap the vast resources off Alaska's coasts. After years of regulatory and legal delays, the oil giant is just a few permits away from beginning exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas this summer.

"It's clearly a frustration that it's taken years and billions of dollars," Murkowski said. "We're not there yet, but we are on the cusp."

While lamenting the amount of time it has taken to get to this point, Murkowski said the Obama administration does deserve some recognition for its role in bringing Shell closer to the finish line in the Arctic.

In particular, Murkowski credited Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes, who leads the interagency group on Arctic energy development, with helping to bring some order to the patchwork of regulations governing Arctic offshore drilling.

"I think he has made a concerted effort to try to provide for as best a process that can come together, when you have an administration that I believe has some real qualms about the commitment in the Arctic," Murkowski said.

Shell hopes to drill up to six wells off the coast of Alaska over the next two summers.

LOOKING AHEAD

If Republicans do not take control of the Senate, the chamber's energy panel will likely be headed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Murkowski has been working to build a close relationship with Wyden, traveling to Oregon with him to visit a hydro-plant and opening a dialogue between their staffs.

That working relationship could come in handy as Murkowski works to implement her long-term energy strategy. To develop her vision, staff pored over the energy policies espoused by U.S. presidents from Nixon onward.

Opening ANWR to drilling has long been a top goal of Republicans and Alaskan Murkowski will almost certainly include the refuge in her plans, but by tying some of the federal revenue from the drilling to support for renewable energy, the senator hopes to gain more backing.

Facing criticism that it has been too tough on oil and gas producers, the Obama administration has recently been reaching out more to industry and touting its oil and gas credentials.

Still, the rapid growth in energy production on private and state lands has not been matched on the federal level, Murkowski said.

"I think that to a certain extent the administration is talking the good talk about increased domestic production and valuing that, but we're not seeing that translate on federal lands," Murkowski said.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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