Strategic Petroleum Reserve not a ‘piggy bank’ — Murkowski

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today that lawmakers should resist the temptation to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to pay for unrelated legislative initiatives.

“I’m very worried about any incursions into the SPR that are just meant to fund something else, whether it’s related to health care, whether it’s related to transportation,” she told E&ENews PM. “I’ve been pretty vocal and consistent in saying the SPR is our insurance policy out there. And you don’t sell the insurance policy for a one-term shot in the arm. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Murkowski’s warning came as the House this week is slated to vote on a bipartisan bill, H.R. 6, by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that aims to speed the development of life-saving drugs by creating a temporary multibillion-dollar fund for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

To help pay for $9.3 billion in mandatory spending, the bill authorizes the sale of more than 80 million barrels of oil from the SPR over eight years, which the committee says will provide roughly $7 billion. The reserve is getting a fresh look from policymakers, given the rapid increase in U.S. oil production in recent years.

Murkowski suggested that using some SPR revenues for maintenance of the reserve would be appropriate.

“We’ve got some repair work to do,” she said. “Let’s look to the security of our SPR. If perhaps we need to sell off a little bit to help fund something like that, I can see that that makes sense. To me, you’ve got to have some nexus back. Whether it’s vaccines or transportation, there’s no nexus back. You’re just using that as the ATM. That’s not what it’s designed for.”

Her comments echo remarks made last month by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, whose department manages the reserve. “I have considerable concern about using the SPR for anything other than energy security and resilience issues for which it’s intended,” he told Upton (Greenwire, June 2).

An Upton spokeswoman referred a reporter to a committee fact sheet on the bill, which is a priority for the chairman and is also backed by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the panel.

That document addresses the connection between the SPR sales and the bill, noting changing domestic energy dynamics since the reserve’s creation in 1975, an ongoing maintenance backlog, and the fact that the SPR contains nearly 50 percent more crude than is required by law.

“Through the course of the committee’s oversight, it has become clear that modestly reducing the volume of the SPR would create some breathing room for DOE to more efficiently and effectively manage the SPR without jeopardizing energy security,” it states.

“At the same time, the revenue generated from the sale of SPR oil would be directed toward NIH funding in the 21st Century Cures Act — because just as energy reserves are a national resource designed to protect and serve our citizens, so too is an investment in health innovation and research. The Energy and Commerce Committee is uniquely positioned to make the modest adjustments the SPR needs, and to redirect those savings to benefit the American people.”

Murkowski sidestepped a question on whether she’ll work to fight the House’s pay-for when the measure gets to the Senate, but expects SPR sales will surface again as Congress looks to fund programs in a tight budget climate.

“People are looking under every rock for money,” she said. “And apparently they think they’ve found some money in the salt caverns that are the SPR. The SPR’s not a piggy bank here. This is probably not the first time we’ll be making this argument here.”