The Senate’s top Republican on energy issues, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has crafted a blueprint for U.S. energy policy that calls for increased drilling while opposing laws to cap greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming.
"Energy 20/20" is a signal of how the Republicans want to proceed on energy policy in the coming years as the nation wrestles with contentious debates over oil drilling, fracking and climate change.
Murkowski, the top ranking Republican on the Senate energy committee, argues energy is too often seen as a necessary evil rather than embraced for what it brings.
"We like to be comfortable in our temperatures. We like to be able to move around. This is the mark of a successful and an economically healthy world. Where you have energy these are the prosperous areas," she said in an interview.
Her proposal opposes "any policy that would increase the price of energy or limit consumer choice." Its release comes two weeks after President Barack Obama promised in his inaugural address to respond to climate change, casting it as a moral obligation to address the emissions linked to warming of the planet, melting Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels.
Murkowski said Congress is unlikely to embrace climate change bills. Major legislation that would have capped emissions and set up markets to trade pollution credits failed in 2010 and is not likely to be resurrected.
"I’m looking at it from the perspective of what’s going to create jobs, what’s going to help the economy," Murkowski said. "A carbon tax or a cap and trade proposal or something that is going to make energy more expensive is not going to help us."
Murkowski herself co-sponsored an attempt in 2007 to impose a cap on carbon emissions, saying at the time that "the permafrost is melting, Arctic ice is disappearing and wildlife habitat is changing." She said Friday the economy is weaker now and emphasized the 2007 proposal had limits on its scope.
Murkowski’s blueprint calls for investments in research and development of technologies to lower emissions.
Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council said he hasn’t had a chance to see Murkowski’s proposal but that any call to ramp up fossil fuel production and forgo action on climate change is a terrible idea.
"The series of extreme weather events that have swept across the nation in the last year have made it abundantly clear there is no time to waste in tackling our carbon problem around the nation and globe," Matzner said.
The Democrats control the Senate, and Murkowski will need to work with them to get her priorities into law. She said her "Energy 20/20" document is a starting point for conversation in the Senate energy committee.
The committee chairman, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, received a copy of the 115-page document Friday and said he had to take a closer look before weighing in on it.
"Senator Wyden is looking forward to working with Senator Murkowski on legislation when the time comes, and to taking her plan’s recommendations into account as much as possible," said Wyden spokesman, Keith Chu.
Wyden and Murkowski are already working together on the possibility of giving states such as Alaska a share of the federal money from energy production off their coasts. Murkowski is pushing for up to 37.5 percent.
Murkowski’s "Energy 20/20" proposal is sweeping in scope. Murkowski wants oil leasing off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. She wants an increase in drilling on federal lands, saying that will hasten independence from imported oil.
Her proposals include drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and overturning the Interior Department’s plan to set aside half the National Petroleum-Reserve Alaska for wildlife, wilderness and recreation. Murkowski also wants to speed approval for resource production on Alaska Native lands.
Murkowski is resistant to federal regulation of fracking, the controversial process in which high-pressure water and chemicals are injected underground to free up the natural gas inside shale rock. Murkowski said the states already do a good job of regulating it.
She is pushing for immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is opposed by environmental groups because it would tap Canadian oil sands that are higher in carbon emissions than other sources of oil.
Pursuit of energy efficiency is important but shouldn’t hurt the standard of living, according to Murkowski’s blueprint, which argues it’s misguided to think lower consumption necessarily makes the nation more efficient.
"A household that cuts its usage of gasoline is certainly conserving energy, but if the members of that household are spending more time taking alternative travel, or simply taking fewer trips, then they also may be accomplishing less in their lives. Americans are and should be free to pursue happiness, after all," Murkowski’s "Energy 20/20" says.