WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today delivered the Global Keynote speech at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) “Future of Energy” Summit in New York City.
Murkowski’s remarks focused on her Energy 20/20 blueprint for moving the nation toward energy independence. The document, which was introduced earlier this year, includes more than 200 policy recommendations to ensure that the United States has access to energy that is abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure. She also provided a congressional update and suggested several “rules of engagement” for a more productive energy debate.
Murkowski’s prepared remarks:
“My roles as the Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as a Senator for Alaska, and as a consumer of energy have given me a deep and abiding appreciation for energy. Through them I have come to understand the tremendous opportunities – and the often-daunting challenges – that our nation faces in this area. In surveying the scene, I’ve repeatedly affirmed an idea that we can all agree on: we need a major “re-think” on our nation’s energy policy.
“Like many of you, I’ve given a lot of thought to how that can be accomplished. And just over a year ago, tired of the unproductive conversation about energy in Washington, DC, I decided to try a different tack. I began working with my Energy Committee staff to put my thoughts on paper – to describe what a truly “all of the above” policy might look like for our country.
“We examined positive trends – rising production on state and private lands, the emergence of new fuels and technologies, efficiency gains in everything from appliances to vehicles to buildings. We considered the negatives – high oil prices, our aging electricity infrastructure, regulatory burdens and bureaucracy. We thought about the definition of “clean” energy, and how to provide certainty and stability to those who endeavor to pursue it. We took a long look at the proper role of government in that effort. And this comprehensive review became a comprehensive report, entitled Energy 20/20: A Vision for America’s Energy Future, which we released earlier this year.
“Energy 20/20 is driven by a simple insight: that energy is good. It provides the basis for advanced civilization and for higher standards of living. It allows us to live comfortably. It allows us to manufacture and communicate, to travel and to transport. Rarely acknowledged, but explicitly true, is that energy enables nearly every aspect of modern life.
“The cover of Energy 20/20 says it all. It shows North America at night. And if you look at the full picture, with the entire world, the areas that are lit up are the prosperous ones – America, Europe, parts of Asia. The areas that are dark – like much of Africa – are by far the most deeply impoverished, where life is often unbelievably difficult and access to energy remains scarce.
“From the insight that energy is good, I developed five attributes for our supply: we should strive to make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure. This is really the core of my vision for our energy policy. Instead of picking one technology, instead of fixating on one fuel or one resource, we should focus on those five attributes as our desired outcomes. We should develop policies that can help achieve them. And while there is a valid role for government, we must allow competition and markets to do the great majority of the needed work.
“The next question, then, is how? My report seeks to answer that through some 200 recommendations. We grouped them under seven headings: producing more, consuming less, clean energy technology, energy delivery infrastructure, effective government, environmental responsibility, and an energy policy that pays for itself. Every idea within those areas would improve our policy, and bring about national benefits for our economy and our security.
“Here I should note: Energy 20/20 is meant to be a conversation starter, not a term sheet for legislation. But I’m quite happy with the positive reception it has received. And today it appears possible to make progress on a number of the ideas within it, including many that relate to new energy technologies.
“First, to borrow a common cliché, we should ‘level the playing field.’ Next, we must support new technologies – through policies that are themselves sustainable. Finally, we need innovation, with a serious emphasis on lowering costs.
“A good example of ‘leveling the playing field’ is the extension of eligibility for the Master Limited Partnership, a structure that is currently available to certain companies in the oil and gas sector. Senator Coons will soon re-introduce legislation bringing parity to renewables and energy efficiency, enabling companies in those sectors to structure themselves as MLPs. As you know, the MLP can be a great mechanism for raising capital in a competitive environment.
“The federal government can also help reduce some of the risk inherent to clean technologies. And we can start by thinking outside the box, by ensuring that the United States is producing the needed raw materials. We depend on minerals for everything from the smallest computer chips to the tallest skyscrapers. We need them for solar panels, advanced batteries, and just about every other high-tech component and product. Entire technologies depend on the availability of minerals, and yet too many policymakers routinely ignore that fact.
“We currently tie for dead last in the world – with Papua New Guinea – in the amount of time it takes to permit a mine. It’s no wonder mineral-related investments in our country have fallen off a cliff over the last 20 years. We are now more than 50 percent dependent on foreign suppliers for 41 minerals, and 100 percent dependent on imports for 18 of them. That has to change if we want new energy technologies to be developed and manufactured here in America – and I will soon re-introduce my bipartisan bill to ensure that it does. To borrow a phrase from the president, our economy will never be ‘built to last’ if we lack its most important building blocks.
“At the other end of the spectrum are much-needed reforms that can help save the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. It is true that many have called for the entire program to end, but I believe that’s only necessary for the division created by the stimulus act. It is possible to preserve the program that Congress established in 2005, and to protect taxpayers fully from further losses. I plan to work with the Chairman of the Energy Committee, Ron Wyden, who has indicated his interest in this issue. And we would genuinely appreciate your input as we proceed.
“To help reduce the cost of new technologies, our focus will be on removing roadblocks, sensible funding, and innovation. I’m convinced that our bipartisan bill to make simple administrative improvements for clean, renewable hydropower will be the first energy bill signed into law in this Congress. Within our committee, members are also working on legislation related to marine hydrokinetic power, geothermal, technology transfer, and spent nuclear fuel – to name just a few. Another bill that has promise is the energy efficiency blueprint being spearheaded by Senators Portman and Shaheen.
Some of the most important work we undertake on energy will relate to R&D. I can tell you, from recent conversations alone, that there is strong bipartisan and bicameral interest in legislation that promotes innovation – this has support in both parties and in both chambers. And while there is a tendency to focus exclusively on renewable energy, remember that unconventional resources like methane hydrates, which could supply a steady stream of natural gas that lasts for thousands of years, also have incredible promise.
“One of the most enduring ways to boost research will be through the creation of an ‘Advanced Energy Trust Fund.’ You may have heard the president talk about this concept. Mine’s a bit different, in that it is fully paid-for, and could actually make it through Congress as a result. It would use a share of the receipts from new energy production on lands that are currently off-limits to fund new energy research. This is a way to help establish an energy policy that pays for itself, and to avoid the volatility of the federal budget cycle. It offers a chance to reduce our costly dependence on foreign oil, to keep energy affordable and abundant, and to boost R&D without raising taxes or increasing the deficit. And it would be a shame if this opportunity is squandered.
“Outside of the Energy Committee’s jurisdiction is tax reform. The sooner we start that process, the better. The Code is filled with loopholes, preferences, exemptions, and special treatments, all designed to incentivize behavior or lessen the consequences of top rates that are too high. Tax reform is a hugely important issue, especially when it comes to energy. Our goal must be to provide certainty as far out as possible. That doesn’t mean subsidies should continue to grow more expensive even as the costs of technologies fall – but, hopefully, we can provide at least a three-to-five year window where investments can be made without a material shift in policies.
“There’s a lot we can do. But the real question is whether we will actually do any of it. And that depends, to a large degree, on the tenor of the debate. So let me suggest a couple ‘rules of engagement’ that will hopefully help guide your conversations at this conference – and any that you may have with policymakers and other stakeholders after it concludes.
“First, look for areas of agreement – not fights that can be picked. There is a long list of areas where agreement will not be reached, and we could spend all of our time arguing about them. The end result would be a lot of acrimony, but nothing more. If we’re going to improve our energy policy, everyone from the President on down will need to copy the approach that Chairman Wyden and I are taking on the Energy Committee. We must start with the policies we agree on – get them finished – and go from there.
“Second, keep jobs and economic growth in mind. Last month’s report showed that just 88,000 jobs were created. Unemployment remains too high, at 7.6 percent. The labor force participation rate is at its lowest level since 1979. Any policy that threatens growth or portends job losses, especially those that explicitly seek to increase the cost of energy or subvert its use, will only serve to grind the debate to a halt.
“For this reason, I believe very strongly in free trade and the responsible development of American energy exports. With an eye toward job creation and increased prosperity, the Department of Energy should move with timely purpose on reviewing the applications pending before it for the construction of LNG export facilities. Our country is already exporting record levels of gas to Mexico via pipeline and there is no economic reason not to expand that trade if market conditions allow.
“Finally, please don’t forget our other immense limitation at the federal level – $16.8 trillion in debt, and counting. To be very blunt, the more a bill costs, the lower its odds of passage. It is difficult and sometimes distracting to try and offset the costs of new legislation, but given our fiscal situation, there is no other choice. The silver lining is that this offers a chance to be creative. In recent years the assumption has been that substantial deployment subsidies are the best and perhaps only way to unlock substantial private investment. Yet some of our best options, including the ones I mentioned a few minutes ago, would come at little or no cost to taxpayers.
“We can make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure. What we need to get there is a truly national energy policy … a policy that will strengthen our economy … that will protect our security … that will give certainty to businesses and investors … and that will continue to build on our tremendous record of environmental protection. I’ve put my blueprint on the table, in the form of Energy 20/20. Now I’m ready to work with my colleagues in Congress – and anyone else who is interested – to start making genuine progress at the federal level.”