Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska's senators offer support, criticism of Obama's energy plan

FAIRBANKS - President Obama's comments about energy earlier this week have split Alaska's senators.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Obama said the U.S. "can't overnight convert to an all-solar, all-wind economy," but he said investment in clean energy will be key to economic growth in the 21st century.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, took the opportunity to write the president a letter emphasizing the importance of an Alaska natural gas pipeline in producing cleaner energy for the country.

"I know your administration already is strongly supportive of this project, and I commend your appointment of a new federal coordinator of the Alaska natural gas pipeline project," Begich wrote. "I urge your support for provisions in the Senate energy bill to underscore the importance of this project to America's energy independence."

The senator also reminded the president of Alaska's important place in further drilling on the outer continental shelf.

"For Alaska, where we know how to responsibly develop and produce oil and gas in extreme conditions, OCS development is necessary to the long-term health of the current trans-Alaska oil pipeline which currently carries 16 percent of the U.S. domestic oil production," Begich wrote.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, said that she was "pleasantly surprised" by Obama's calls on energy during his State of the Union address, during which he called for new oil and gas development and building new nuclear power plants.

However, the senator said the president's words don't seem to match up to the budget proposal sent to Congress this week.

"This disconnect is both disappointing and difficult to explain," Murkowski said. "At the very least, it's apparent that the vision the president presented to Congress does not match up with what some of his agencies have in mind."

Murkowski took particular aim at the president's remarks about nuclear energy, noting that the Obama administration has not yet helped finance a nuclear project and abandoned the Yucca Mountain Project, a storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel in the Nevada desert.

The senator also was critical of proposed tax increases for oil, natural gas and coal producers.

"Collectively, those increases would raise producers' cost of business by an estimated $80 billion," Murkowski said. "That would translate to higher energy prices for consumers."

Begich also asked the president to reconsider repealing tax incentives for the energy industry.

"These important incentives have been part of our tax code for decades, and their repeal threatens American jobs and domestic energy production at a time when we need them both," he wrote in his letter to Obama.

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Source: By Chris Freiberg. Originally published by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on February 12, 2010