Sen. Begich may support GOP energy bill

Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010

JUNEAU - Alaska's Democratic senator said Wednesday that he may sign on in support of a Republican energy bill because he's not satisfied with the proposal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put forth.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich told The Associated Press he's reviewing the GOP plan and would have no problem backing it if he finds it more acceptable than the Democrats' current proposal.

Begich believes there's a lot of common ground to be found on the energy issue between the parties, but he said the air must be cleared of the attempted power grabs and "political posturing" to advance a comprehensive plan.

All this comes with an August recess looming and midterm elections this fall. Begich isn't up for re-election until 2014.

He said there's a "pent-up desire" to do something on energy, which is why he believes there's a push now. But Reid's bill is "not a comprehensive plan," he said. If the nation is serious about diversifying its energy base, far more needs to be done to encourage greater use of natural gas or hydro projects, for example, he said.

"I think people are wanting to do something on energy, but sometimes doing a little bit, my worry is, they may think, 'This is it. We're done.' My view is, we've just begun."

Begich said he has several problems with the Reid proposal, including the elimination of a $75 million cap on economic liability from an oil spill. Begich said he believes the current limits must be raised but that doing away with a cap would be a job killer and limit opportunities for offshore drilling.

He also wants to see more in the way of revenue sharing.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, helped pen many of the pieces in the GOP bill, which is heavy on provisions related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. She said Wednesday she would "hesitate to suggest" what Reid put forth is "an actual energy bill."

While the bill contains some "good ideas," including encouraging deployment of electric cars in certain cities and offering incentives for agencies to power their fleets with natural gas, overall, it just cobbles together provisions, she said, and is an unnecessary distraction when the focus should be on gulf oil spill.

"The real need, the immediate need right now is to respond to the crisis in the gulf. We've got a regulatory system that failed us," and the remedies could, and should, be addressed in a bipartisan way, she said in a web video.

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