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Murkowski unveils energy plan

Partially opening ANWR, speeding permitting process among her ideas

Posted: February 4, 2013 - 5:27pm  |  Updated: February 5, 2013 - 1:01am
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, speaks to reporters about her blueprint for U.S. energy policy, titled "Energy 20/20," at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  J. Scott Applewhite
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, speaks to reporters about her blueprint for U.S. energy policy, titled "Energy 20/20," at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, rolled out an energy report she said has been a year in the making in a speech to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington, D.C., Monday.

Murkowski’s report, entitled “Energy 20/20: A Vision for American’s Energy Future,” calls for federal action to partially open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, invest in research and development for clean energy technologies, and speed up the permitting process for certain types of development, among other actions she said will improve the United States’ energy picture.

“The very simple premise in this report is that energy is good,” Murkowski said during a conference call with reporters after the speech. “It’s as simple as that.”

Murkowski, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she wants energy in the U.S. to be “abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure.”

“I am not one who falls into the category that what we need to do is simply increase the price of energy, and therefore it will decrease consumption, and that is how we will deal with emissions that lead to climate change,” said Murkowski. She noted already-high energy prices in Alaskan communities like Aniak, adding, “Alaska cannot afford to see increased energy prices as an answer to an energy proposal. It’s just not reasonable.”

For Alaskans, one of the most prominent elements of the report is an old hobbyhorse of Murkowski’s: opening up part of the “1002 area” of ANWR, a 1.5-million-acre coastal plain suspected to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

“Energy 20/20” calls for just 2,000 acres of the 1002 area to be opened up for oil and gas exploration and production.

“We’re not looking to open up the entire ANWR area,” Murkowski said. “We’re looking to a reduced footprint of about 2,000 acres within ANWR. In addition, I have continually called for a fencing-off of revenues from the proceeds from the leases and the royalties and the rents off of ANWR to be put into a renewable energy deployment fund.”

The 1002 area is also home to an Arctic ecosystem, which opponents of ANWR drilling have argued is both sensitive and valuable.

Murkowski said she sees no conflict between environmental concerns and limited ANWR oil production, noting of environmental standards that “in this day and age, you can’t get around them.”

“There is no escaping the environmental safeguards,” Murkowski said. “Nor would I want us to escape the environmental safeguards. We are the leader in environmental standards in so many different ways.”

Murkowski also said that she wants biomass energy and hydroelectric power, among others, to be included in a “technology-neutral” definition of renewable energy.

“Hydropower is one that I care deeply about. It’s a major source of energy for us in the state,” said Murkowski. “We need to move forward in recognizing hydropower as a renewable resource.”

The report also calls for Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to be made fully available for oil and gas leasing, as well as “thoughtully developed with roads, bridges, and pipeline facilities.” It also suggests that research should be done into determining whether methane hydrate and other “unconventional” gas resources can serve as a practical fuel supply.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that Alaska may contain as much as 600 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrate, a figure cited in Murkowski’s report.

“How we move forward to unlock this incredible resource could be a game-changer, truly,” Murkowski said.

“Energy 20/20” is a 115-page document, not including its endnotes.

Murkowski said during her speech that the report “is intended to be a source of ideas for discrete legislation that can attract, after vigorous debate, a strong base of support from a politically and geographically diverse group of members.”

In her post-speech conference call, Murkowski expanded on that.

“What I want to do is … generate a level of discussion. There’s going to be some points in this where members say, ‘Whoa, this is a non-starter for me. But I like this idea over here. What can we do?’” Murkowski said, adding, “I’m not looking to cobble together the Energy Act of 2013 based on this. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move pieces of this forward.”

A spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Monday that Wyden has not had a chance to review the full report yet.

“Senator Wyden’s goal is to draft legislation that can pass the Senate with bipartisan support, and to focus early this year on finding common ground on critical energy questions, rather than highlighting areas of disagreement,” the spokesman, Keith Chu, added via email. “He is looking forward to working with Senator Murkowski on that legislation when the time comes and to take her plan’s recommendations into account where it’s possible.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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