Voices of Alaska: A new Congress brings new hope for Alaska

  • By Sen. Lisa Murkowski
  • Monday, January 12, 2015 5:14pm
  • Opinion

For the first time in eight years, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. While our eight-vote majority in the Senate is not enough to unilaterally overcome filibusters or presidential vetoes, it is enough to restore regular order and actual debate on important issues.

The changes we are bringing to the Senate — including longer work weeks and an open amendment process – will create opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to promote policies that strengthen Alaska and our nation.

In this new Senate, Alaska will hold the gavels of both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. The combination of these powerful positions provides a singular opportunity for us to pursue policies that protect and strengthen Alaska’s rightful role as an American energy powerhouse.

These new positions are critical for creating a bright future for our families. We now hold the gavels of the panels with both policy and spending authority over the federal agencies that control more than 60 percent of the public lands in our state.

I will continue to be a tireless advocate for Alaskans — on a life-saving road for King Cove, increased access to our federal lands, offshore oil production, monetizing our natural gas resources, the responsible development of the Arctic coastal plain, and more — except now, federal officials will have no choice but to listen.

Alaska’s natural resources are vital to our prosperity. That is why it’s in our interest to make our energy supplies as abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure as possible. The best way to achieve these goals is to lead by example and encourage inclusive debate in both the committee and subcommittee.

Bipartisanship and the flexibility to create solutions where perhaps none existed before are important, and I stand ready to work with federal agencies to create opportunities in Alaska. But that collaborative spirit ends when President Obama’s policies restrict access or stifle Alaskans.

The greatest single issue of concern for many Alaskans is the high cost of energy. The good news is that we now have a unique opportunity to revisit our energy policies. Congress has not passed comprehensive energy legislation since 2007. Much has changed in the intervening years. It’s time to reimagine our energy policies and ensure that Alaska once again has a prominent role — as a source of supply for our nation, and a testbed for promising new technologies.

As chairman I will pursue an aggressive energy and public lands agenda that promotes Alaska’s economic independence and self-reliance, all while respecting our environment. Implementing policies of abundance will help us finally access our rich resources. That includes the NPR-A — which has become a petroleum reserve in name only under President Obama — the waters of the outer continental shelf, the forests of Southeast, and many other areas where access has been prohibited.

Promoting abundance is just the first step to making energy affordable. We must also look to energy efficiency to reduce costs for families and communities. From Kotzebue to Metlakatla and from Bethel to Eagle, improved energy efficiency for public buildings and homes offers a real opportunity to reduce energy bills. Voluntary programs rather than more government regulation is key to success. We must look for ways to continue building on the investments the Denali Commission and state of Alaska have made in energy for our communities and our people.

Sadly, too many in Washington see policy as a pathway to protect Alaska from the people that live there. This attitude is especially visible in the current state of Arctic policy, where studies rather than investment is driving the agenda. With the United States taking over the Arctic Council this year, we must use our new leadership role to promote policies that respect the wishes of the Alaskans who call the Arctic home — and allow them to build lasting economies and create opportunities for their children.

Low oil prices are creating a level of uncertainty about state revenues and some may want to look to Washington, D.C. for short-term answers, but lasting solutions will not come from another federal program. Instead they will come from policies that provide new access, facilitate new production, and finally achieve economic independence.

With a restored Senate and key chairmanships, Alaska is well served in the 114th Congress. We should all be excited by the opportunities ahead.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is Alaska’s senior senator and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. She has been a member of the energy committee since 2002.

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