Murkowski statement at renewable portfolio standard hearing

February 11, 2009
05:28 PM
 February 10, 2009                                              or ANNE JOHNSON   (202) 224-7875                                        
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, gave the following opening statement today at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on a Renewable Portfolio Standard:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this hearing today.  This is the first in a series of hearings the Energy Committee will conduct as we work to craft the third comprehensive energy bill in as many Congresses.  
Because the Administration was unable to appear before us today, I’d like to thank Chairman Bingaman for agreeing to hold a second hearing on the RPS issue so the Department of Energy, and perhaps even FERC, can explain how this complicated program should be implemented, if enacted.  I’d also like to hear from another panel of stakeholders at that time.
I know this is an important issue for the Chairman, who has been a long-time champion of a national Renewable Portfolio Standard.  This was a new approach when the 107th Congress first began considering a renewable energy requirement for utilities.  At that time, only a handful of states had such programs.  Today, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia have fashioned their own renewable energy programs.
States, of course, are in a far better position than Congress to determine what resources and timetables work best for them.  A one-size-fits-all national standard raises serious concerns with about regional disparities.  While some parts of our nation are blessed with abundant renewable resources others – particularly the Southeast – lack renewable resources other than biomass needed to reach a 20% requirement.  I have a number of questions on the feasibility of the Southeast using biomass as the sole means to meet this requirement, including the land use needs, carbon emissions, and environmental impacts.
We need to ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve with this program.  Is our aim simply to increase renewable energy production?  Or is the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?     
If so, it would seem that additional non-carbon emitting technologies should be included.  Some point out that choosing specific technologies actually conflicts with the goals for a market-based carbon reduction program, such as cap and trade.  One thing people do agree on is that the RPS, as drafted, is not a climate change solution.  
Further, we cannot consider the RPS in a vacuum.  We know that our existing transmission network is inadequate to support our environmental goals.  If the necessary transmission is not put in place – and that means dealing with thorny siting, permitting and cost-allocation issues – it will be impossible to reach this new federal mandate and the customer will end up paying the cost of non-compliance. 
We all agree that we must find ways to power our lives that are cleaner, more efficient, and of course, environmentally protective.  And now we must do so in a way that helps right our economy. 
So, as we go forward, we must consider whether the RPS is the right policy at this time or has it been overtaken by the need to address climate change issues?  If Congress chooses to impose a national standard, how can we make this work for all parts of the country?  How do we handle existing state programs?  How do we deal with the transmission impediments?  And what about the costs?  In this economic crisis, we can’t be asking people to choose between something as basic as energy and putting food on the table.  
I’d like to thank all of our witnesses for joining us today.  I look forward to hearing your testimony and getting your thoughts on the issues I have outlined.  Mr. Chairman, thank you again for convening this important hearing.