Murkowski: House chose party over energy policy

  • By ELWOOD BREHMER
  • Monday, December 19, 2016 10:33pm
  • News

Sen. Lisa Murkowski accused House leaders of forgoing negotiations on her overarching energy policy bill to begin holiday celebrations early.

Still steaming more than a week after it became clear her signature piece of legislation would die in the lame duck session of Congress, Murkowski said in a Dec. 16 interview that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, chose to adjourn the House Dec. 8 to attend a holiday party in New York rather than round up votes for final passage of the final House-Senate conference committee version of her Energy Policy Modernization Act.

According to Murkowski, Ryan and other House Republicans had tickets for a Dec. 8 train from Washington, D.C., to New York City that they didn’t want to miss and thus what would have been the first federal energy reform package in nearly 10 years was left for dead in the last hours of a nearly two-year journey.

“The Speaker said ‘We’ve run out of time’ because they wanted to get on the party train,” Murkowski said.

A spokesperson for Ryan could not be reached for comment.

As chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski began working on the energy reform bill nearly as soon as Congress convened in 2015 following the mid-term elections in which Republicans took control of the Senate.

The legislation package touched many aspects of domestic energy policy, from ensuring timely decisions on LNG export permits to federally recognizing hydropower as renewable energy and providing federal loan guarantees to states for deployment of energy efficiency and new energy systems, according to her office.

Far more than an energy bill, it also included a fish and wildlife conservation and lands access package long-sought by sportsmen’s groups; a land management package of more than 50 individual bills; and funding for fire mitigation and water management provisions for drought-riddled Western states, aspects championed by Murkowski’s partner on the legislation Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Energy committee Democrat.

In a last-ditch Dec. 8 speech on the Senate floor Murkowski emphasized the bill had gone through the proper committee process with input from both sides of the aisle — a rarity in Washington.

It passed the Senate 85-12 in April with priorities from 80 senators, Murkowski has noted, and the final conference report had provisions from 74 senators and 224 members of the House.

The House passed its Republican-heavy version of energy reform in late May and conference work began in July.

In using regular order, “Sen. Cantwell and I did what people said you couldn’t do,” Murkowski said in an interview.

She also accused House members on the conference committee of late changes to their demands in negotiations, saying negotiating hurdles had mostly been cleared in the days before everything fell apart.

They claimed a water settlement for the Yakima River watershed in central Washington, a key provision of Cantwell’s, would violate the House ban on earmarks, according to Murkowski.

However, Alaska’s senator contends the House turned around and approved similar California-specific provisions in the $12 billion water infrastructure bill President Barack Obama signed into law, also on Dec. 16.

A spokesman for Rep. Don Young, who served on the conference committee along with Murkowski, said the congressman would have rather seen something pass than nothing at all.

“Ultimately, the settlement point that (Young) came to was he supported some sort of energy package this year, while recognizing that moving forward we would have had to do a package that took a broader scope for energy policy in the country,” Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow said.

Shuckerow also said he had not heard of Murkowski’s claim as to why the House adjourned when it did.

Murkowski stressed that getting more Republican priorities in an energy bill next Congress won’t necessarily be any easier, despite the forthcoming change in the White House because Republicans will hold 52 seats in the Senate, not close to the 60 votes needed to squelch a Democrat filibuster.

“Those who think it’s going to be easier next year don’t understand the realities of the Senate,” she said.

When it became clear the House was done, Murkowski took to salvaging what she could from her bill. She spent Dec. 9 pulling the dozens of land conveyance and management provisions from the bill in an effort to get passage through unanimous consent in the Senate.

The land provisions included approval of a right-of-way through Denali National Park for a potential state gasline to avoid a seismic fault on other routes and a long-awaited swap of Southeast timberland between the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office and the Forest Service among other swaps for fire and water management in western states.

In the end, she was unsuccessful.

“Everything was sacrificed; so we have to start all over,” Murkowski conceded.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read