It has been eight years since the last successful omnibus energy bill became law, but that didn’t dissuade Sen. Lisa Murkowski from contributing her own offering late last month. Sen. Murkowski’s bill, a bipartisan effort with Sen. Maria Cantwell, of Washington state, is a carefully calculated offering that steers clear of hot-button energy issues such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or the federal export ban on oil.
While steering a bill to the middle sometimes cuts off useful proposals on both sides of the aisle, in this case Alaska’s senior senator has done good work. Her bill is a worthy one, and contains several components that would help Alaska and the rest of the U.S.
There have been several efforts since 2007 to pass comprehensive energy legislation at a national level, but all have failed after senators tacked on controversial measures related to subjects such as climate change and hotly debated energy projects. That’s an outcome both Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell are looking to avoid: In a Senate Energy Committee hearing last week, the senators implored their colleagues not to burden the bill with divisive amendments. They were successful: on Friday, the bill passed out of the committee, which Sen. Murkowski chairs. By staying away from danger zones on either side of the aisle, the senators give the important bipartisan measure the bill contains a better chance of success. Of the topics tackled by the bill, many would benefit Alaska and other states. Particular topics of interest to residents here are energy efficiency and weatherization.
The omnibus bill would reauthorize the federal Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program, which provide funds directly to states to help with weatherization of low-income families’ homes and energy efficiency programs.
The bill is rife with other passages that also will be beneficial for the state. It will speed up federal permitting for liquefied natural gas export, which would be a boon for Alaska’s full-diameter natural gas pipeline.
It will reauthorize federal geothermal energy research, an energy avenue that could help some of the state’s most far-flung communities where carbon-based energy is most expensive. It promotes research and development of microgrid systems that would impact Alaska villages — and much of the research for those systems is being done locally at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Energy and Power.
Still, the bill isn’t a Christmas tree for Alaska — far from it. Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell made sure to focus on priorities that will have benefits for all states, and in doing so separated some measures from the bill that are important to themselves and their states.
For instance, Sen. Murkowski chose to focus on ending the oil export ban in separate legislation and didn’t include Alaska priorities such as offshore oil revenue sharing or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That’s wise. The U.S. is in dire need of the improvements the bill will deliver, and getting many good things while leaving a few out is far better than shooting for the moon and ending up with nothing. Sen. Murkowski’s bill deserves the support of her colleagues and constituents, as well as swift passage through Congress and approval by the President.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,