GOP takeover of Senate puts crude export fan in key role

Published in Fuel Fix

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski wasn’t on the ballot in Tuesday’s election, but she still emerged a big winner.
The Republican from Alaska is now poised to become the chairwoman of both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the appropriations panel that sets spending on the Interior Department.

Murkowski will be able to use both roles to advance her energy policy priorities, including ending a longstanding ban on crude exports and expanding offshore drilling.

Even as the top Republican on the energy panel — with Democrats in charge of the Senate — Murkowski has singlehandedly driven the debate over exporting crude, by issuing white papers, delivering speeches and meeting with Obama administration officials on the issue.

“Sen. Murkowski has been the most vocal leader on the subject of the need to revise our rules and regulations on crude oil exports,” noted Joshua Zive, a senior counsel with Bracewell & Giuliani. “She’s committed to having this debate publicly, and that means were going to see legislative vehicles that are in the discussion in the next few months.”

Zive predicted that with Murkowski as the presumed chairman, the energy panel will be involved in a broad discussion of issues surrounding the oil export ban, including Jones Act restrictions limiting traffic between U.S. ports to American-built and -crewed ships.

“In the end, you’re likely to see relatively slow action on big (crude export) legislation, but a lot of big debates that are going to involve all of these competing interests and the need to organize and communicate those to the public,” Zive said.

Murkowski’s enthusiasm on the issue could counter a more tepid approach to the issue by other GOP leaders. The senator outlined many of her energy policy priorities in a broad blueprint for action released last year.

For instance, she wants to see the U.S. sell offshore oil and gas leases along the East Coast and expedite permitting for some onshore development. She has worked with the current energy committee chairwoman, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, to expedite government reviews of proposed natural gas exports.

Murkowski is known for collaborating with Democrats to find middle ground on energy issues, most recently with Landrieu as well as previous panel chairmen Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

She is “a sensible, middle-of-the-road” legislator, noted Margo Thorning, senior vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, adding that Murkowski’s energy blueprint was “a pragmatic wish list” which now has a better chance of being advanced.