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Sen. Murkowski Addresses the Need for a Long-Term Domestic Energy Policy


WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke on the Senate floor on the urgent need to develop a long-term energy policy for America that focuses on increasing domestic production and reducing overall consumption.

Murkowski's prepared remarks follow and the speech can be seen in its entirety at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Naow4PEGZkM.

Floor Statement: Energy Principles

March 2011
Senator Lisa Murkowski

Last week, I spoke on five of the steps we need to take to increase domestic oil production. Today I'm here to speak more broadly about our nation's energy policy as a whole, what the proper goals for such a policy should be, and the false choice between increased domestic production and reduced oil consumption. 

Energy policy has repeatedly been brought up as an area where this Congress, and this President, can find common ground.  Knowing that something needs be done is no guarantee that something will be done.  But the truth is, most of us know that we can improve in this area.  And with oil prices above $100 a barrel, and the price at the pump heading towards $4 a gallon, the need to develop a coherent national energy policy - to find that common ground - has taken on even greater urgency. 

So what makes for good energy policy - and how can we ensure that agreement is finally reached on meaningful energy legislation?  I believe we should have five goals.  We should strive to make our energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and domestic.  I realize those words, especially in combination with one another, don't lend to a clever acronym or a catchy slogan.  But if we follow them as guiding principles - and make sure that our legislative efforts reflect each and every one - I believe genuine progress can be within our reach.

So let's start with affordable energy - perhaps the most relevant topic right now.  Times like these serve as a wake-up call as to how important energy - and particularly affordable, domestic energy - is to our nation.  Energy provides the base of everything we do; not just heat and power and light and transportation, but the food we eat, the clothes we wear, everything. Whether for a server farm or a soybean farm, abundant and affordable energy is the foundation for a robust economy.

Unfortunately, there are many who seem to feel that the key to clean energy is to make energy scarce and expensive. We don't need an experiment or an act of Congress to know that an economic recession reduces emissions and a depression would do so even more. The current price of oil is a stark reminder that while making energy scarce and expensive may reduce emissions; it's an even more effective way to crush an economic recovery.

The President has proposed that we raise taxes on oil companies. But in the middle of tough economic times, the American people are not open to policies that will increase their energy costs.  There is a better path that would do more to bolster our energy security; more to create jobs; more to generate government revenues; and more to reduce our deficit.  Instead of punishing one industry to promote another, let's use our tremendous reserves of conventional resources - which account for more than 80 percent of our energy supply - to fund the next generation of clean technologies.  Let's prove up and produce our resources, then put the revenues towards tax incentives, research, X prizes, studies at our universities - you name it. 

Speaking specifically to the regulatory burdens on energy, I think we all recognize the Clean Air Act has made our air cleaner and improved our health.  Carbon monoxide, SOx, NOx, and a host of other pollutants have been largely removed from smokestack and tailpipe emissions. There is more to be done in regulation of HFC's and other greenhouse gases which, though emitted in relatively tiny quantities, have potent greenhouse effects. The Clean Air Act, however, is not the proper legal framework for regulation of carbon dioxide, which is emitted in huge quantities by almost every human activity; whose effect cannot be confined to a nonattainment area; and which, in itself, is not harmful to health.

All of us want a cleaner energy supply.  But the approach taken over the last several years - 'all-or-nothing' instead of 'all of the above' - has been counterproductive at best.  We need to seek out and accept policies that will lead to steady progress.  And we need to differentiate between what we call pollutants as well.  Mercury, for example, causes brain cancer. Carbon dioxide is not toxic, - so we do a great disservice when we lump them together.

We don't yet know the best way to provide energy that is clean and abundant and affordable. What we do know is there are myriad opportunities. Oil, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, coal, biofuels, fission, fusion; simply naming the different types and subcategories of energy could take a whole speech. Whether it turns out to be fireflies in a bottle, or something none of us have yet imagined, we don't know what source or combination of sources will turn out to be the best for America.

That should be cause for those of us in Congress to be extraordinarily careful in trying to predetermine what sources should win or lose.  A diversity of energy sources provides the best proving ground and insurance against over reliance on any one source, and a healthy economy provides the best demand for the cleanest sources available.

Winston Churchill once said, "On no one quality, on no one process, on no one country, on no one route, and on no one field must we be dependent. Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone." He was talking about oil, but his words are just as applicable to our need for diversity in all types of energy.

Finally, the need to make our energy domestic to the greatest degree possible is something we all have known, but failed to do anything about for decades. It shouldn't take upheaval in North Africa to convince us that sending billions of dollars a day out of our economy to countries that are not our friends is a very bad idea.

We should achieve this through two parallel tracks - increased domestic production and decreased consumption. We absolutely should reduce our dependence on oil. In the early days of the automobile, we saw a wide range of experiments as inventors and entrepreneurs strove to find the best approach. I think we're again on the verge of a renaissance in vehicle technologies where we explore electric vehicles, biofuels, fuel cells, efficient diesels, natural gas and propane, and other approaches.  But for now, we use 20 million barrels of oil a day and for the vast majority of its uses, there is no imminent substitute.

As I said in my speech last week, and I will continue to say over and over again, for the sake of our national economy, for the sake of our nation's security, and for the sake of the world's environment, we should produce the highest possible percentage of the oil we do consume here at home.

Domestic production is currently being stifled by those who engage in what I call magical thinking - that if only we stop producing oil here in the United States, the world's need for oil will go away.  And skittles will fall from the sky and unicorns prance in the streets. The harsh reality is that our foreign oil dependence contributes to conflicts where young men and women die or come home without limbs, and we wreck our economy.

There will be always be future conflicts in the world, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, and as a nation we will have to decide on our proper role in each. We can and should do everything possible, however, to eliminate foreign oil dependence as a strategic consideration.

None of this is due to America running out of oil.  My home state of Alaska alone has estimated reserves in excess of 65 years' worth of Persian Gulf imports.  There are also tremendous reserves in other states and offshore.  For decades opponents of domestic production have argued we shouldn't produce more because we wouldn't see the oil for a long time.  But if, 20 or even 10 years ago, we had ignored those who said ANWR was unacceptable because it would take a decade to develop, we could now be enjoying another million barrels of domestic production per day.

Opponents also like to say that a policy of increased domestic production will have no immediate effect on oil prices. I'm not even going to waste time arguing the folly of trying to dismiss good national energy policy because it's long-term.  And I'll also note that using the Strategic Oil Reserve to mitigate high oil prices - to maybe push them back below $100 a barrel for a couple weeks - should be unacceptable to us.  We need a viable long-term answer - not a short-term and short-sighted political alibi.

There is nothing OPEC fears more than America committing to the twin tracks of increased domestic production and reduced consumption. Were we to do so, you would see OPEC doing everything in its power to drive down world oil prices to make us abandon our policies and once again hamstring ourselves.

But I want to offer an important perspective on this.  Even if you cannot accept that America increasing production and decreasing consumption would affect global oil prices, remember that price is not the only reason to advance such a policy.  Right now, the high price of oil works against America and works for every nation that deliberately produces its reserves.  Production provides them with jobs, revenue for their governments, better trade balances and national security - all at our expense. 

We are the only country that has identified a huge resource base and then refused to produce it.  Many love to talk about China "eating our lunch" in clean energy, about Germany and Japan outpacing us in wind and solar technology.  But does anyone think that if those countries had a Gulf of Mexico or an ANWR, that they would not be drilling as we speak?  Does anyone think those nations demagogue nuclear power or refuse to permit coal plants?  Of course their energy policies are on a better track than ours - they don't just look at tomorrow; they focus on today, as well. There's an article in the WSJ yesterday by Nansen Saleri.  He concludes his article with the statement that "The U. S. does not have an energy problem.  It has an energy strategy problem."  Think about that.  It's not lacking the resources; it's the strategy for how we develop our energy resources.

During his campaign, President Obama liked to quote Dr. Martin Luther King and talk about "the fierce urgency of now." There are few issues more important or more fundamental to our nation's long-term success than a viable energy policy.  People are correct when they say parts of it will take time. But, now is never more fiercely urgent then when we have such an important and long journey ahead of us.  If we're ever going to take control of our energy future - now is the time to come together and support policies that promote abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and domestic energy.

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