Murkowski says gas boom should back clean-energy options

Senator Lisa Murkowski, citing a need for policies to deal with abundant energy supplies after years of scarcity, offered proposals that include expanding oil and gas development to help underwrite clean-energy research.

“What we are trying to establish here is a new direction,” Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said today at a news conference in Washington. “We want to change the conversation.”

Murkowski, top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said combating climate change has to be part of the debate, though she said legislation to cap carbon- dioxide emissions or tax the gas, which is tied to global warming, couldn’t pass Congress. Instead, lawmakers should create a fund to support less-polluting energy sources using some revenue from increasing production of oil and gas.

Murkowski’s Republican colleagues, such as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, have said human-activities such as the burning of coal to generate electricity aren’t responsible for global warming.

Proposals offered by the senator include speeding government approval for oil and gas drilling, approving the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast, and promoting energy conservation and renewable energy sources including hydroelectric power.

Absent from Murkowski’s plan are new mandates for renewable energy production and the repeal of the oil-and-gas tax breaks to support clean energy, proposals some Democrats favor.

Production, Environment

Murkowski said the report is a “discussion blueprint” designed to shift the debate away from pitting more production of fossil fuel against stepped-up environmental regulation.

“Murkowski’s energy blueprint for the future reads more like a cut-and-paste job from the fossil fuel industry’s playbook of the past,” Franz Matzner, associate director of government at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It relies extensively on policies and incentives for increased oil and gas drilling, while ruling out many of the policy tools most likely to reduce carbon pollution and bring cleaner energy technologies into the marketplace.”

A shift is necessary, Murkowski said, because advances in exploration processes, including hydraulic fracturing, have turned the U.S. into a nation that soon may meet most if not all of its energy needs. A National Intelligence Council report in December reiterated estimates that U.S. oil production may expand to 15 million barrels a day, enough to make the nation “a major energy exporter” by 2020.

Congress should weigh in on how best to manage the newfound bounty and the opportunities it provides, she said.