Murkowski eyes ‘refreshed’ reform bill

Source: Courtney Columbus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2019

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) yesterday expressed hope that the current Congress could pass a “refreshed” energy reform bill.

She spoke about her priorities today at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ winter policy summit in Washington, D.C.

“At the federal level, there’s a number of steps that we can take to really cement our status as the energy superpower that we are,” said Murkowski.

She added: “And that means access to our lands and our water, it means a stronger push for innovation, it means careful regulations, and after what has now been more than a decade of inaction, it is going to require us to update and modernize our energy laws.”

Broad energy and natural resources legislation came close to passing in recent years, only to see the effort stall.

The dynamic will be different this Congress. Democrats now control the House, and the bill won’t carry Land and Water Conservation Fund language; a reauthorization cleared the Senate last night.

Murkowski said the success surrounding the lands package may transfer to energy policy. “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 said.

Another of her priorities, she said, is to “restore a full complement of commissioners at the FERC.” She didn’t mention specific nominees.

“The commission has a lot of work ahead of it. In order to do that, in order to keep moving full steam ahead, they need to have everybody; they need to have everybody there,” Murkowski said.

“We’ve got billions, literally billions of dollars in energy infrastructure projects, including pipelines, LNG export facilities. They’re in the queue; they’re waiting, and FERC needs to have that full team in order to address the growing backlog.”

Murkowski said she also sees modernization of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act as a priority.

Some in the audience sighed audibly after she brought up PURPA. “Was that air escaping from a balloon over there?” she said, laughing.

“I think there is recognition that you’ve got a modern energy landscape, and then you have an act like PURPA, enacted in 1978, meant to encourage energy conservation and renewable energy sources. But back then, in the 1970s world of energy, that really wasn’t the norm at the time,” she said.

Renewable energy will keep growing and may even surpass coal and nuclear, she said, and there is now also open access to transmission and to competitive markets.

“The norm has changed, and so must PURPA,” Murkowski said. “My hope is that the FERC will reach a bipartisan deal to bring PURPA into the 21st century.”