Murkowski reaches across the aisle on energy bill

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski released a wide-ranging energy bill Wednesday with the hope that bipartisan compromise will get it to the president's desk.

Congress hasn't passed a major energy package since 2007. Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released the bill with her Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, after months of negotiations over its contents.

So much compromise went into the effort that Murkowski dropped one of her pet issues from the bill -- removing restrictions that keep U.S. producers from exporting crude oil.

"If this had been a bill that I had drafted by myself in the privacy of my back office, the product that you would see would be very much different than this bipartisan product that we are releasing today," Murkowski said in an interview. "There were certain areas where either I could not accept what the minority party was proposing, or it just came to a stalemate on some of the proposals that I was trying to advance. And so what you will see is a base bill that is bipartisan in nature, that does not have everything that I would like but it doesn't have everything that the other side would like," she said.

The 135-page energy bill has five main chapters: efficiency, infrastructure, trade, supply, and accountability, which is a section aimed at cleaning duplicative laws off the books.

Despite its size and author, the bill doesn't scream "Alaska," particularly given Washington's ban on earmarks. That means that most of the provisions have a national bent, rather than benefiting specific places.

Murkowski said that much of the bill will be good for Alaska, though, citing changes it would make to the law in support of electrical microgrids, energy efficiency and weatherization and hydropower.

The bill would direct the secretary of energy to set aside grant money for career training related to energy efficiency. Another provision would have the Energy Department coordinate and disseminate information on all the available federal programs that could help with retrofitting schools. More grants would be aimed at weatherizing homes for low-income people and nonprofit organizations.

And the bill would repeal a previous law that requires federal buildings to phase out fossil fuel use by 2030, which Murkowski argues will be a big help to Alaska, where some federal buildings would have a tough time operating without coal or natural gas.

The bill also has provisions aimed at streamlining the permitting process for hydropower and directs the Energy Department to consider it a renewable resource, Murkowski said.

Though she let go of a few priorities before introducing the bill, Murkowski does plan a few amendments of her own when the bill goes through her committee next week, she said.

And the senator credits much of her hope for the bill moving on the Senate floor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who she said will allow an open amendment process.

"If my committee members knew that next week was going to be the only time that they were going to be able to signal where their support is on oil exports, (and other issues)... you can bet there would be a pile-on and an effort to make sure that anything that they ever thought about in the energy sector is added to this bill," Murkowski said.

"My goal has been and remains to move a bill out of committee that has support of not only the majority party but the party of our Democratic colleagues as well," so that it has a real chance at passing on the Senate floor, Murkowski said. "It's time to update our energy policy and we are doing it in the regular course of business."