Republican senator lays out path for U.S. independence from OPEC

Mon Feb 4, 2013 4:06pm EST

* Energy plan would open parts of Atlantic coast to drilling

* Murkowski says plan is meant to kick off a dialogue

* Plan supports renewable energy research funding

* Conservation group says plan not serious on climate change

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - U.S. independence from OPEC could be a reality if the U.S. government opens more lands for oil and gas development, speeds permitting and approves the Keystone XL pipeline, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee said in a policy report on Monday.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, laid out a wide-ranging plan to take advantage of the United States' energy bounty.

"We no longer should view energy policy from a perspective of scarcity, but rather, from a perspective of increasing abundance," the 120-page report from Murkowski's office said. "With the right policies, abundant and affordable energy is achievable."

Murkowski's vision called for the government to embrace the nation's shale oil and gas boom and various other fuels, rein in regulations, and eschew new mandates on the use of renewable resources.

Many of the policies, such as opening parts of Atlantic coast and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, are perennial Republican objectives. These goals are likely to face strong opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Many Democrats vehemently oppose expanded drilling.

Murkowski acknowledged that many of the ideas promoted in her plan may not gain traction, but said her main goal was to open a dialogue on what lawmakers could realistically tackle.

"I'm putting a lot of ideas on the table. Some of them may take off like rockets, others may be total duds," Murkowski told reporters. "What I'm trying to do is figure out how we get moving on energy policy for this country."

Murkowski's home state of Alaska is the No. 3 U.S. crude oil-producing state, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, and is home to significant oil and gas reserves in National Petroleum Reserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and elsewhere.

Ultimately, Murkowski said she hoped the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources would be able to pass smaller chunks of legislation on a bipartisan basis, and that these bills would eventually make it to votes by the full Senate.

By working with her counterparts in the House of Representatives and with Senate leadership, Murkowski said she hoped to avoid the fate of previous energy efforts that languished once they were voted out of the committee.

Parts of the report where lawmakers might be able to find common ground include funding for clean energy research and energy efficiency, both issues that have garnered bipartisan support in the past.

While Murkowski's plan does not support any new mandates that would push the expansion of power from renewable resources, it backs using revenue from increased oil and gas development to fund clean energy research. The plan also calls for considering extending energy-saving tax credits as a part of overall tax reform.

The energy blueprint also addressed the nation's crude oil stockpile, saying the government should develop criteria clarifying that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve should not be used to address price spikes.

Republicans have complained that the Obama administration's 2011 release from the reserve, in response to unrest in Libya, did not address a significant supply disruption.

The shale oil and gas revolution has raised prospects of significant U.S. liquified natural gas exports. Some lawmakers and manufacturers have raised concerns that LNG exports could harm U.S. industries and increase prices for consumers.

Murkowski's blueprint backs expediting gas exports to U.S. allies without trade agreements that are facing fuel emergencies, such as Japan in the wake of its nuclear disaster.

Although Murkowski said some of her proposals would help to lower greenhouse gas emissions, she rejected "heavy-handed" approaches such as a cap-and-trade regime or carbon tax.

The Wilderness Society, an environmental group, blasted Murkowski's approach to climate change.

"Instead of building on the path the country is on towards using precious energy more efficiently and competing for the renewable energy jobs of tomorrow, this energy plan is a U-turn on progress," said David Moulton, senior legislative director for the conservation group.

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