Murkowski signals room for compromise on energy plan

US Senate Energy Chairman Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) Tuesday said his bill is a "starting point" that will be used to help frame a national energy policy with the help of Democrats and the White House. Democrats and environmental groups have criticized Murkowski�s bill for focusing too much on boosting fossil fuel supply without trying to curb that demand through alternative fuels.


By the OGJ Online Staff


WASHINGTON, Mar. 20
�US Senate Energy Chairman Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) Tuesday said his bill is a �starting point� that will be used to help frame a national energy policy with the help of Democrats and the White House.

�We are going to start the hearing process and then wait for the White House bill,� Murkowski said at a press briefing following a speech before the US Chamber of Commerce.

Democrats and environmental groups have criticized Murkowski�s bill, the National Energy Security Act of 2001, for focusing too much on boosting fossil fuel supply without trying to curb that demand through alternative fuels.

The proposal also includes various tax incentives for industry that would seek to boost marginal well production. The White House has signaled it wants to avoid �manipulating� the tax code to spur energy supply. Recommendations from an interagency taskforce are expected in mid-April; there is no date yet for a White House bill.

One area not addressed in the current Republican omnibus package is the role sanctions play in blocking energy supplies from reaching US markets, a Conoco Inc. official told Murkowski during a question and answer session at the Chamber of Commerce Energy Summit.

�People say Big Oil can help themselves, but I�ll tell you Big Oil cannot,� said Michael Stinson, senior vice-president of Conoco government affairs. �We have an asset in Libya we�ve been trying to get at for 15 years that is almost as big as ANWR.�

According to Stinson, sanctions reform should be included in any energy bill because many embargoes now on the books directly block US companies from building their reserve base.

In response to Stinson�s question, Murkowski agreed that there is room to reconsider �most� sanctions although there �sometimes are good reasons for them.�

The lawmaker did not signal whether a Senate bill might include sanction reform; congressional sources said the issue is also expected to surface when Congress tackles free trade legislation later in the year.

With or without sanctions, Murkowski said, he fully expects lawmakers on both side of the aisle to produce a compromise energy bill, although he was reluctant to offer a time frame for when the legislation would be considered by the full Senate.

In the meanwhile, the ranking minority member on Murkowski�s committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), will offer his own omnibus energy bill this Thursday. It will include marginal well producers tax breaks pegged to the price of crude.

The proposal will also call for expedited pipeline permitting, just as the Murkowski plan does.

Bingaman has been a vocal supporter of the proposed Trans-Alaska gas pipeline and wants to remove regulatory burdens that could stymie the project. He will not endorse drilling in national monuments or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

However, Bingaman agrees with GOP leaders that there is room for increased access to some public lands through improved permitting rules.

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