FAIRBANKS - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is among eight Republicans named to a conference committee dealing with the national energy bill.
As a member of the panel, Murkowski will have an opportunity to defend and amend Alaska-related items in a national energy policy bill whenever a House-Senate conference committee convenes to consider the bill.
The Senate leadership named the committee, which also includes five Democrats, on Friday. The House has not yet named its members.
The Senate's version of the energy bill would authorize Congress to spend up to $550 million on energy projects in Alaska through the Denali Commission. Both the Senate and House bills also authorize a loan for the moribund Healy Clean Coal Plant - $80 million in the Senate version and $125 million in the House version.
If the conference committee keeps those authorizations as they now stand, both would need additional appropriations before any money would come to Alaska.
The energy bill also would allow the federal government to cut its royalty share of any oil pumped from leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and in federal waters off Alaska. Murkowski promoted the options as exploration and development incentives.
Murkowski is ranked fifth in seniority among Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, from which six of the eight Republican conference committee members were drawn.
At least three Republicans on the Energy Committee have served longer than Murkowski. Their seniority rankings on that committee are lower than Murkowski's because the committee was not their first choice when assignments were passed out, according to Marnie Funk, spokeswoman for the Republican members of the committee.
Murkowski made the committee her first choice, which resulted in a higher ranking and, now, a seat on the conference committee for the energy bill.
The Senate bill does not attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The House bill does.
Murkowski said she will not try to add ANWR language during conference. "I don't think we're revealing any secrets by saying that we know that the energy bill ... to be passed by the Senate, it's not going to have the ANWR piece in it," she said.
Several senators have threatened to filibuster any bill with ANWR development language and so far drilling proponents haven't mustered the 60 votes necessary to stop them. So the Republican leadership and Alaska delegation will try to put drilling language in an upcoming budget bill that is not subject to a filibuster.
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