Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Energy bill home stretch: Sen. Murkowski’s legislation to modernize energy policy for Alaska, U.S.
Senate passage of the first comprehensive federal energy bill in a decade took months of negotiating, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski can attest to the fact that it was worth the fight. The landmark legislation, which Sen. Murkowski authored, will make a host of needed changes to U.S. energy policy, emphasizing renewable energy sources and efficiency while also cleaning up permitting for issues related to fossil fuels. The bill’s final hurdle before heading to President Barack Obama for final passage into law is the ironing-out of differences between House and Senate versions of the legislation. Given the much-needed priorities the bill champions and its broad bipartisan support, members of Congress should expeditiously deal with its few discrepancies.
From the outset, Sen. Murkowski crafted her energy bill in an attempt to strike a difficult balance: enacting meaningful, necessary reforms without alienating members of Congress from either party. Surprisingly, she was largely successful. Though senators had plenty of amendments to offer, some more worthy than others, the core reforms at the heart of the energy bill were retained. In the end, the bill passed the Senate 85-12, an incredible accomplishment in a Congress that has been bitterly divided on most issues.
The bill’s benefits for the U.S. — and Alaska in particular — are many. The bill extends federal support for energy efficiency and weatherization programs that are critical to Alaskans because of extreme temperatures, high heating costs and a budget crisis that has killed state funds for similar programs. It invests in electric microgrid research and deployment that could help bring down soaring electricity costs and increase reliability in rural villages. It provides a safer path for the state’s proposed natural gas pipeline and ensures speedy decisions on permitting for liquefied natural gas projects. It focuses on geothermal energy research that could provide lower-cost options for some of the state’s most remote communities. And it provides support for hydroelectric projects in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska that are already providing some of the cheapest, cleanest power in the state.
No bill as important as Sen. Murkowski’s energy legislation is immune from politicking, however, particularly in a political climate as dysfunctional as Washington, D.C., has been lately. For months, the bill sat in limbo after Michigan’s senators put a hold on it in an attempt to force action on the lead-contaminated municipal water system in Flint. Sens. Murkowski and Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Energy Committee, were ultimately able to convince the senators to release that hold, though action on the Flint water crisis is still pending.
The final step the bill must clear before it heads to President Obama for his signature is reconciling the differences between Senate and House versions. The Senate version, as it stands, is a superior version of the legislation. It doesn’t contain some of the more partisan amendments of the House version that would risk a veto, and it strikes a good balance between an all-of-the-above energy policy and conservation.
Sen. Murkowski’s energy bill, when it passes, will be a helpful policy measure for the U.S. and a legacy accomplishment for Alaska’s senior senator. It’s also a heartening example that even in a sharply divided Congress, even in a presidential election year, meaningful work can still take place in Washington, D.C. The landmark legislation is almost out of the woods — Congress should make sure its path is clear to final passage.
By: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial