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Murkowski hopes to revive her ambitious, bipartisan energy bill with new legislation

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) chairs a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 20, 2016. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is making a push to resurrect her energy bill that stalled out in the final days of Congress in 2016.

So far, the plan mirrors her previous effort: keep it bipartisan, and separate any legislation likely to gum up the works in the Senate.

A similar bipartisan effort helped her energy bill move through the upper chamber last year but was also the thing that stopped it from making it past the more conservative House of Representatives, where members were unwilling to make the same compromises that drove it to succeed in the Senate.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs, passed 59 bills, largely by voice vote, on March 30. Nine of those bills are Alaska-specific legislation that Murkowski included in her energy package last year. The bills offer federal-state land exchanges, encourage expanding hydroelectric power in Alaska, and make changes to existing statutes, including one allowing for a natural gas pipeline through non-wilderness areas of Denali National Park.

"I think we wrapped up our business meeting in probably less than 15 minutes," Murkowski said later that day. At the hearing, "we moved through a package of lands bills; we moved through the sportsman bill that Senator (Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico) and I have been working on; we moved through a nuclear provision, (and) provisions relating to hydro."

"Yes, what we are doing is repackaging much of the work that we did last year… . So we're back in business," Murkowski said.

Nicole Daigle, spokeswoman for the energy committee, said "all options are on the table" to move the bills through the Senate floor, "whether on a standalone basis, through appropriations, as part of a broader package, or as amendments to other bills."

Murkowski's "goal is to pass them, as soon as possible, and she's willing to use all available means to do so," Daigle said.

On Friday, Murkowski and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also again filed their bill that would allow the state to profit from offshore drilling and reinstate Arctic lease sales. Murkowski filed similar legislation last year but kept it separate from the energy package she was hoping to advance with bipartisan support.

Friday's bill is not likely to draw much support from Democrats. A prior version sweetened the pot with revenue sharing for offshore leases on the Atlantic Coast. But President Barack Obama later took offshore leases off the table for the Atlantic Ocean.

Areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas where the Obama administration barred leasing "contain prolific resources that can be safely developed to create jobs, reduce our deficits, keep energy affordable, and strengthen national security," Murkowski said in a statement when the bill was released.

The Obama administration's efforts to block oil drilling in the American Arctic ignored "the fact that the rush to the Arctic is on," Sullivan said.

"Oil and gas will be developed in the region—whether by our nation or others," he said, reasoning that it's better for the development to occur with the "all of the safeguards required by the United States to protect the environment and the people who live in the region."

The Alaska-focused bills passed through the committee on March 30 include:

S. 131: A bill that would exchange 20,580 acres of federal Forest Service land for 17,341 acres of non-federal land, to benefit the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

S. 213: The bill would name a portion of wilderness within the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve the "Jay S. Hammond Wilderness Area," after the fourth governor of Alaska.

S. 214: The bill authorizes expansion of a hydroelectric project at Terror Lake, the main power plant for Kodiak Island.

S.215: The bill allows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue an order that puts off a construction deadline for the Mahoney Lake Hydroelectric Project in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. The bill comes at the request of the City of Saxman, Alaska.

S.217: This bill makes changes to a law already on the books regarding permit requirements for a natural gas pipeline going through the Denali National Park and Preserve. The law allows permits to be issued for a pipeline through non-wilderness areas of Denali National Park; Murkowski's bill would strike a provision that requires that limits that to "the approximately 7-mile segment of the George Parks Highway that runs through the Park." It would also remove a provision that requires adherence to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and specifies that such a pipeline would not be subject to ANILCA.

S.267: This bill, sponsored by Sullivan, directs the Interior Department to modify the boundary of the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Project in southeast Alaska, and provide additional federal land as necessary.

S.346: The bill requires the U.S. Geological Survey to establish a 24/7 National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System and center.

S.724: The bill adds additional time for the permitting process for hydropower projects.

S.733: This is Murkowski's "Sportsmen's Act." It is designed to expand opportunities for hunting, fishing and shooting on federal lands.

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