Politico: Murkowski: Smaller steps on energy

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski thinks Congress will have more success taking a "graduated" approach to energy legislation while keeping up the pressure to respond to last year's Gulf of Mexico spill.

While the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in which Murkowski is the top Republican, approved separate strategies last Congress addressing the historic oil spill and broader energy problems, the full Senate and Congress more generally did not follow suit.

"So more of a graduated approach to an energy policy, and I happen to believe that we will have greater likelihood of success in advancing something like that through the committee and getting it through the floor of the Senate and the House as well," Murkowski told POLITICO in the video series "Powering America's Future."

Murkowski cited legislation increasing hydropower and addressing small-modular nuclear reactors as examples. There is "probably much greater likelihood" of something like the latter bill moving "than a full-on expanded nuclear piece, particularly in view of just the uncertainty that we're seeing after the earthquake in Japan."

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) will start marking up energy measures Tuesday, with additional measures coming before Memorial Day.

In order to spur floor action in this Congress, Bingaman has said he hopes to pass everything out of committee by early summer, including legislation designed to ensure the Interior Department "has the authority and resources they need to maintain proper regulation of oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf," he said at a March 30 POLITICO Pro event.

As the first anniversary of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that led to the biggest oil spill in history approaches, lawmakers also face a public both skittish on nuclear power after the damage to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactor and frustrated by the rise of gas prices.

Some of the ideas Murkowski thinks the energy panel will take up may not sound like headline-grabbing proposals that would restore public confidence in how Capitol Hill is responding to their concerns.

"I wouldn't suggest it's kind of nibbling around the edges," Murkowski said. "I would suggest to you that what we're doing is being more focused in terms of those areas where we feel that we can reach consensus on some energy issues, work to utilize the committee process to build good, solid legislation in these areas, advance them through."

She added, "It is a broader, more comprehensive" plan than just focusing on something like hydropower specifically. "But we haven't gone about it in the same manner that we did in the last Congress. We took the 'full-meal deal' approach, and we weren't able to sell it."

The panel also wasn't able to fully sell the strategy it passed last June to quickly respond to the Gulf spill, getting caught in the politics in the broader Senate on raising the per-spill liability limit for companies and cutting tax incentives for the oil industry.

At the time, "the explosion, the deaths, just the real tragedy that went on with that, the nation was fixated on what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico as we watched on our TVs, as we read about the efforts to plug that hole," Murkowski said. "And then they find success and they plug the well and the cleanup continues, and no longer is this incident in the news. And then, it seems like the pressure is off of us here in the Congress to act legislatively.

"We shouldn't allow the timing and the circumstances of what has happened down there to remove us from the responsibility of addressing the reforms that need to be made," she added.

Last year's failure of Congress to produce a spill-response bill showed "even if we were successful in building a bipartisan product, there's no guarantee that it then becomes a priority," she said, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should make it a priority as well. "It needs to be made a priority by the administration, to say we need to have these structural reforms."

The Interior Department has started separating safety and environmental oversight from approval of offshore drilling leases and collection of royalty relief.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "has done some things internally. But quite honestly, a lot of the fixes require a legislative fix," Murkowski said.

One of those is largely out of the hands of Murkowski and the Senate energy panel.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are trying to find a compromise to raising the two-decade-old $75 million-per-spill liability cap for companies.

Landrieu and Begich are meeting first to develop an idea that would need to pass muster with those like Menendez, who is one of the leading offshore drilling critics. "We've told our staffs to get back at it," Begich told POLITICO. He met briefly with Landrieu to talk about it. "We both feel it's time to re-engage."

Murkowski said that's going to have to happen.

"One of the things that held us up ... was what happens with the liability issue and the cap," she said. "And so, maybe what you do [is] take people like Bob Menendez, who was leading on that issue, [Sen.] Frank Lautenberg [D-N.J.], and team them up with Mary Landrieu, myself, some of the others to make sure the commitment to fixing the systems is made while at the same time we can address the liability issue."

Meanwhile, Murkowski and Bingaman are also working on President Barack Obama's "clean energy standard," which promotes renewable power, nuclear sources and cleaner use of coal. She and Bingaman last month solicited public input on what a standard should entail. Responses are due Monday.

"There are those who suggested that a clean energy standard, in fact, may be nothing more than, you know, cap and trade under a different name," Murkowski said. "I don't think that that is the case, but if that is the case, then CES is not going to happen if that's how it is viewed. So ... we're looking to see just what is the temperature out there for an approach that would mandate a clean standard."



Source: By Darren Goode. Originall Published on April 12, 2011