Alaska Editorial: A chance for bipartisan progress

  • Sunday, February 14, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Since becoming chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Lisa Murkowski hasn’t been sitting on her hands. In addition to routine legislation and a host of bills on priorities of the day, she has spent much time crafting a gargantuan omnibus energy bill that, if passed, would be the first such successful legislation in almost a decade. As it stands now, the bill is in a holding pattern after Michigan senators blocked it due to a lack of action on resolving the Flint water crisis. Both the energy bill and the situation in Flint are worthy of the Senate’s attention, but using one to block the other will serve the country only if both are resolved.

The omnibus energy bill, on which Sen. Murkowski has worked with the help of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, is a landmark piece of legislation and the product of many months’ heavy lifting by both senators. Before even passing the bill from committee, Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell invited members to submit any and all amendments they wished to have become part of the bill so they could be heard and debated, even if many ultimately didn’t pass muster.

In an attempt to ensure bipartisan support for the bill, the senators made sure to avoid loading it up with pork, controversial legislative agenda items or state-specific benefits. That means it doesn’t address hot-button issues such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or state priorities such as funding for Alaska’s LNG line from the North Slope. What it does include, however, is plenty important for the Last Frontier and the rest of the U.S.

Energy efficiency and weatherization programs are a major focus of the bill, as well as funding for alternative energy options such as microgrid hybrid power systems of the type common in Alaska villages off the road system. There are funds for extending and expanding federal geothermal energy research, from which Alaska — located as it is along the geological “Ring of Fire” — could see great benefits. And though there isn’t money included for the LNG line, the bill would speed up LNG permitting. And when it comes to major infrastructure projects of the sort Alaska LNG would be, time can be a far more valuable resource than money.

The bill passed out of the energy committee late last year and looked like it had momentum to succeed on the Senate floor, but its prospects got a bit cloudier when it ran afoul of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The energy bill as passed from committee doesn’t relate directly to Flint’s situation, of course, but its progress is being blocked by Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan. The Michigan senators, both Democrats, want to see funds included to deal with the water crisis for their state’s city and others similarly effective. It’s a worthy priority, and Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell recognize that. When the Flint issue blew up a cloture vote on the omnibus bill last week, the two senators worked through the weekend to try to resolve the situation. As late as Monday, there had been no resolution, leaving little time left on the Senate calendar to move the important legislation.

Both the omnibus bill and Flint’s water plight deserve consideration, and it smacks of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to potentially torpedo one over a debate with the other. The Senate energy omnibus bill should pass — after nine years without one, it’s time to show that Washington, D.C., doesn’t always have to be the broken morass residents have come to feel it is.

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