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Q&A: Murkowski outlines plans for new energy bill

29 Jan 2015 16:49 GMT
Q&A: Murkowski outlines plans for new energy bill

Washington, 29 January (Argus) — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been busy shepherding through the Senate a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL bill. But Murkowski has her sights on passing a broader energy package. In this interview, edited for length and clarity, Murkowski spoke with Argus about her legislative priorities after the Keystone XL bill.

You are trying to craft the first comprehensive energy bill in eight years. The 2016 presidential race has already started. How much time do you really have to pass a bill?

Not a lot. But if we let presidential politics or electoral politics dictate the schedule for us in terms of legislative initiatives we would basically be down to six months every other year, and that is crazy. My view of this is, let us get to work and do as much as we possibly can.

With the goal of finishing when?

I would like to do it this spring.

Are you going to have language to lift the oil export restrictions as part of this bill?

It is going to be part of the discussion. I would like to include it. I am also very cognizant this is one of those areas where people are still kind of evolving in their thought. I have tried to make it easier for people by laying out a plan, having a methodology out there that makes sense, allows them to understand where we are, where we have come from on this issue. I think we have made some really good headway.

What about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)? It has been an evolving issue for you.

Yes, it has. When we are talking about standards that do not make sense, that are not working, you just do not let them sit around. It is inefficient. It is uncertain. One of the things, if we really wanted to help the energy sector, would be to try to bring greater certainty to what is going on from a requirements and a permitting perspective, and the RFS fits right in there.

What about access? Are you going to have any provisions to increase access on the outer continental shelf or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)?

When we discuss abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure energy sources you have to be able to access your resources. And our federal resources are where we just have been kind of sitting on things. We have seen great movement, positive movement when it comes to state and private lands. And we have seen technology come on line that would benefit us in so many different ways. But we are being held back in our opportunities with our considerable public areas.

Could you get a bill through that has ANWR in it? ANWR has been controversial for so long.

ANWR has been controversial for so long. I do not understand why. You have got do the fact check and allow people to understand what we have been doing in Alaska, producing up in Prudhoe Bay and the surrounding fields, what we have been doing for 40 years, transporting that oil down through our pipeline and doing so safely, to the benefit of this country. There is no more reason to be fearful of ANWR, an area that is sitting just 45-50 miles to the east of where we are in Prudhoe. If we have been doing this, if we have proven ourselves as good stewards out there, without incident, what is the hang up? What is the paranoia with ANWR?

In today's price environment is there any real hope for activity off the coast of Alaska in the near term?

Folks in the industry are more concerned, not about pricing, but about being able to access the opportunities up north, whether it is the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska or ANWR or offshore. Price, yes, does play in. But right now there is no price that allows operators to make things happen in so many areas where the potential is so rich in Alaska. You have had Shell trying to develop offshore for years now, spending billions of dollars. ConocoPhillips is fighting tooth and nail to get moving on its project in Greater Mooses Tooth 1. It is a pretty low price, but producers' greatest worry is not what the price of oil is but how long is this federal government going to make me wait to gain some certainty with permitting.

This does not fall under the Senate Energy Committee's bailiwick, per se, but should Congress raise the federal gasoline tax?

That is a debate we are going to have. One area that I do not think is right, that we need to look at, is that you have got all of these alternative vehicles out there, plug in vehicles, natural gas powered vehicles. They are not paying into the trust fund, and they have an impact to the road. So I do think there are some things we should be looking at. It is something we need to look at critically because the tax has been out there for a long period of time. As I say that, in Alaska we are paying so much for our gasoline, for our fuel. For Alaskans, to be asked "Well, just add a little bit more tax to it, it will be OK," - 8¢/USG here and 8¢/USG there, when we are already paying $7.50/USG, this is something we have got to pay attention to.

How do today's lower oil prices affect the politics of your energy bill?

I do not think that it has that much impact on it. Right now, people are glad they have some more money in their pockets because they are not paying so much at the pump. Some would say it takes the steam off these issues to move them through. We need to be looking at our policies from a much, much longer term perspective.


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