Beyond the energy omnibus: a look at Sen. Murkowski’s hard-to-pass bills

The head of the Senate Energy Committee has crafted a comprehensive energy plan. But she left her most ambitious initiatives to be battled over separately.

  • Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, smiles as she whispers to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a markup of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., last July.

    Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
 

Lisa Murkowski wants to revamp America’s outdated energy policy. That’s why she’s shepherding a package through the Senate that could have lasting effects on how energy in the West is developed, stored and brought to our homes and cities. The 357-page package is a testament to negotiation — an example, the Alaska senator says, of what Republicans are capable of when they’re in control.

What’s most striking, though, is what it’s lacking. There’s no mention of drilling in the Arctic, transferring public lands to state control or ending the ban on crude exports.

Murkowski personally believes that such measures are key to America’s energy future, but she also knows they’re controversial enough to derail her energy package’s chance of passing. Still, that doesn’t mean she’s giving up. In addition to her bipartisan energy package (S.2012), Murkowski has introduced dozens of additional bills and amendments this year — more in the past nine months than in any of her previous 24-month-long Congresses.

Among them is a bill (S.1312) that would end the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. At first glance, it seems straightforward: Big Oil and its GOP supporters want to lift the export ban to encourage more domestic drilling. Environmental groups counter that doing so would cause the release of more planet-warming carbon into the atmosphere.

But beneath the surface, the debate is complicated. Though oil producers support exports, oil refiners oppose them, because exports would likely drive up the price of the domestic crude that refiners currently get at a discount. The effects of this on consumer prices at the gas pump are also uncertain, and the politics are murky, too: While many Democrats oppose the measure, some, like Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would lift the ban in exchange for renewable energy legislation. (For a more in-depth look, see “A crude oil export ban primer,”
hcne.ws/crude-ban
.)

Another of Murkowski’s bills (S.2011) seeks to open more of the Arctic Ocean to drilling by forcing the federal government to offer additional leases there. And an amendment that’s already passed the Senate would facilitate the process of transferring lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to state control. National parks and monuments would still be managed by the federal government, but drilling, mining and logging on 530 million acres would be decided by states — many of which are ravenous for development and less than stringent on environmental protection.

The amendment, which offers few specifics, is largely symbolic. But that doesn’t mean it’s innocuous. Micha Rosenoer, a Conservation Colorado organizer who’s fighting the land-transfer movement, notes that it’s helped amp up anti-federal sentiment among groups like the Oath Keepers and encouraged more concrete measures that may be introduced this fall.

Yet despite all the debate they’ve incited outside Capitol Hill, most of Murkowski’s bills have yet to be considered by the full Senate — and with Congress’ current focus on passing a 2016 budget, many may never make it that far. There’s no date for Murkowski’s energy package to be heard by the floor, but spokesman Robert Dillon says that when the time comes, the senator will be ready.

Return to:

The rise of Lisa Murkowski
High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!