Washington — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, Wednesday outlined her priorities in the new Congress, expressing optimism about bipartisan action on energy innovation and efficiency and restating her desire to quickly advance a nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as soon as one is named.
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The comments on FERC come as the 2-2 partisan makeup has increased uncertainties for natural gas infrastructure designed to move burgeoning production to domestic markets and overseas through LNG exports.
Despite partisan rancor on center stage in Washington, including clashes over climate policy, Murkowski countered a notion that "there's no way to figure it out in the energy space."
"I think this is going to be the Congress that we can finally reach agreement on a major policy act that promotes energy innovation, efficiency and so much more," she told the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commission's winter meeting in Washington.
BROAD ENERGY BILL
Murkowski was hopeful about passing a "refreshed" energy policy bill, building off of a broad bill that cleared the Senate in 2016 but died conference with the House. That bill aimed to modernize energy laws and included measures on pipeline permitting, LNG exports, crossborder projects, hydropower licensing, energy efficiency and electric utility workforce challenges among other areas. Given the lapsed time, she said she saw a need to reexamine the bill critically and sit down with House chairmen.
Murkowski was also "more optimistic than ever" about prospects for enacting legislation on nuclear waste disposal. "There's a dynamic right now on this discussion that I haven't felt or been part of for a handful of years right now," she said, noting the topic comes up whenever she meets with Energy Secretary Rick Perry or senators Diane Feinstein, Democrat-California and Lamar Alexander, Republican-Tennessee.
Turning to FERC, Murkowski stressed the need to get a fifth member on board to address billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including pipelines and LNG projects. "They're in the queue, they're waiting," she said, describing a "growing backlog."
'AS SOON AS WE GET A NAME'
"My preference is as soon as we can get a name, that we're moving," Murkowski told reporters. She said she did not want to wait before moving on a Republican nominee until Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur's time had expired or the end of the year for a Democrat to be advanced. "I don't want to slow things out. A year is a long time to be down one member."
Washington sources have said Senate minority leadership has recommended former Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Allison Clements, but Murkowski offered that there has been no public announcement. "If names are ready at the same time, we've got a process to move folks and people; if there's no name ready then ... we can't do anything."
In the context of the President Donald Trump's interest in moving an infrastructure package, she said the energy panel's focus would be on innovation and efficiency. She suggested there was consensus among thought leaders on the need for an "all-of-the-above" approach to clean energy technologies.
"We don't want to see the US move to a policy that favors one resource over another," Murkowski said, suggesting a need to promote not only a few favored renewables but "all renewables" including hydropower, geothermal, and looking for breakthroughs in advanced nuclear power, carbon capture, long duration energy storage and hybrid energy systems.
"There's a sweet spot on energy policy over the next couple years," potentially on promoting energy research development, demonstration and deployment, she said.
-- Maya Weber, firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Edited by Richard Rubin, email@example.com