What others say: Delays, president-elect make passage and content of energy bill uncertain

  • Tuesday, December 13, 2016 7:39pm
  • Opinion

It appeared earlier this year that
Congress was on track to pass the nation’s first comprehensive energy legislation since 2007, something of high interest to Alaska. The bill actually had bipartisan support in the Senate, which approved the bill 85-12 in April.

The House then passed its version of the Senate’s bill 241-178 in May. In actuality, though, all the House did was amend the Senate’s version by stripping out the Senate’s work and inserting the House’s own version, which it had passed the previous year. The House added several other energy and natural resources items, including a measure for drought relief in California.

Final action in the House was partisan, with Democrats highly critical. That was a marked difference from the Senate, where the energy bill was assembled in a bipartisan manner by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The House and Senate versions were headed for a conference committee to resolve the differences. And there they sat. And sat.

The calendar pages turned one by one, however, and now it appears that President Barack Obama won’t have the opportunity to sign an energy bill. That’s because there is no final bill for him to sign; House GOP leaders now don’t want to consider working things out with the Senate.

A clearly frustrated Sen. Murkowski, sensing that time was rapidly running out, issued a terse statement Wednesday.

“For two years, we have provided a textbook example of how the regular order process is supposed to work for congressional legislation,” she said. “We began with listening sessions, hearings and a committee markup last year before moving on to a successful floor debate and a formal conference with the House of Representatives this year.

“The House may want to claim that this bill cannot move forward because we are running out of time. The reality is that the House is attempting to run us out of time, in order to prevent this bill from moving forward, even though it contains the priorities of dozens of its members.”

Sen. Murkowski in May, one week before the House acted on the energy bill, explained to Alaskans in a newspaper column why she believed the bill was important for this state. She listed several items as being of Alaska interest:

. Prioritizing resource assessments and tackling permitting reform.

. Streamlining the regulatory process for hydropower.

. Providing routing flexibility for the Alaska natural gas pipeline and requiring timely decisions for LNG export applications to help get Alaska gas to market.

. Reauthorizing programs such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, the State Energy Program and the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy.

. Promoting the development of Alaska’s methane hydrate, marine hydrokinetic, and geothermal resources.

. Including the Sportsmen’s Act, to help ensure access to public lands for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

The bill, under Sen. Murkowski’s leadership, also had the support of the other two members of the Alaska congressional delegation — Rep. Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republican.

Passage of an energy bill and those Alaska-interest items will be left to the new Congress, one still controlled by Republicans but with smaller margins in both the Senate and House.

What happened?

Soon-to-be President Donald Trump is what happened. With Mr. Trump winning the White House on Nov. 8, Republican leaders, primarily in the House, reportedly believe it best to craft energy legislation with the involvement of a Republican president.

It’s a big gamble. Will a wide-ranging energy bill make it through the Congress next year or the year after? Will the new Trump administration seek an energy bill that has components that prove too controversial to obtain sufficient support? Will the Alaska items in this year’s bill be included in a new energy bill? Will a new energy bill perhaps be even better for Alaska?

Energy policy is certain to be an issue for the new Congress and the new president, in part due to changes in the energy-production landscape brought on by the advent of fracking technology and rising concerns about climate change. Whether it’s a productive debate carried out in the best interest of the nation is what matters. Let’s hope that’s what happens now.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Dec. 10, 2016

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