Senate Energy Committee leaders say they get along fine

By Kurt Abraham, Editor-in-Chief, World Oil on 3/12/2019

HOUSTON -- If they said it once, they must have said it five times: Senate Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (Rep.–Alaska) and Ranking Minority Member Joe Manchin (Dem.-W.V.) wanted the late-afternoon crowd on Monday at CERAWeek in Houston to know that they really do get along and work together closely. Of course, the reason this becomes newsworthy is the massive political divide in Washington, D.C., these days, whereby almost none of the respective party leaders of any congressional committee—Senate or House—can get along.

While one is tempted to be skeptical, it became obvious during their 30 minutes on the CERAWeek stage together that the spirit of cooperation between the two senators is genuine. Speaking to the attitude toward energy around the country, and particularly oil and gas, Sen. Murkowski observed, “when did energy become such a partisan issue? We’ve got to tone down the rhetoric…stand down the rhetoric.”

From his vantage point, Sen, Manchin noted, “There’s an awful lot going on, on my side, especially in the House, and not all of it is helpful. (Referring to climate change,) I’d rather innovate—how do we use technology to adapt new energy forms?” He then referenced an op-ed piece that he and Murkowski co-authored in The Washington Post on March 8, in which they called for “responsible” action on climate change, utilizing bipartisan solutions. In that same op-ed, the senators remarked that “Alaska and West Virginia know that resource development and environmental stewardship must move in tandem.”

“We propose that we focus on these technologies that will allow us to get to (a position) where we reduce our emissions, but do so in a way that is responsible and is sensitive to the economy,” said Murkowski. “Both Joe and I come from states, where there are many vulnerable people. We pay some of the highest energy costs in the country. In the state of Alaska, so many of my communities are still diesel-reliant. It is a very, very challenging environment for them. So, as much as I want to work toward a way to reduce emissions, I have to do so in a way that ensures that those who are the most vulnerable are not made worse-off, and their economy is not made worse-off. So, how do you find that balance, is what we’re trying to do. What we wanted to do is set the stage—set the stage with the tone of a bi-partisan piece that goes very public, set the tone in a committee….let’s try to dial down some of the rhetoric, let’s try to get us to a place, where we can have some civil dialogue and good, strong debate. Let’s educate, innovate, and stop the messaging and name-calling and finger-pointing.”

Manchin remarked that in meeting with some companies in his Washington office, they often tell him, “’you don’t know how bad it looks, what going on in Congress, in Washington.’ And I said, you think it looks bad from the living room, where you’re sitting? Try it from our seats (in the committee chamber). This observation generated hearty laughter from the audience, to which Manchin quickly followed up by saying, “yeah, but this is not who we are and how I was raised, and it’s not how Lisa was raised. It’s not how the people we represent act. So, the biggest problem we have---I tell people all the time---you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to fabricate your own facts to support your position. And we can’t get people to even agree on the facts. If there’s a problem (a national issue), and we have a set of facts that we can agree on, we’ll fix the problem.”

Murkowski said that in deference to the Energy Committee, “I do think that we have worked very, very hard, to set the bar high, when it comes to bi-partisan cooperation. And I will use as an example, a measure that the President is going to sign into law. This is the very significant Lands package, that we’ve been working on now for about five years. So, before Sen. Manchin was the Ranking Member, Sen. [Maria] Cantwell of Washington was my Ranking, and we worked doggedly with our staffs to really try to build not only a Lands package, but land conveyances with a significant conservation piece, as well as water management and sportsmen’s initiatives, to open up more of our public lands to access. And this was something that we could have tried to ram through, because we (Republicans) had the majority.

“But rather than take that approach,” continued Murkowski, “our view was, let’s work to see how much support we can build from the ground up. And by the time we presented that package to the Senate floor, we had about 50 senators, who had either been a sponsor of the bill or an amendment, or a co-sponsor. So, when it passed, 92-8, it was no surprise, because so many had so much ownership…At the same time that we were working this on the Senate side, we were working with our colleagues on the House side…And even with the switch in leadership, by that time (new House Energy) Chairman (Raúl) Grijalva, by then, they had worked through the process with us, so that we were actually able to advance, through the House…untouched from what the Senate had done…363-62, significant legislation, something that we haven’t done in a long time.”

Asked by Yergin about the “Green New Deal,” Manchin said that “for the first time, (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch (McConnell) is going to put something on the (Senate) floor to vote on. He’s never been anxious to do this. But I understand the politics of it, because he knows it’s devisive. But, let’s understand that there’s no Green New Deal. There is a resolution that has (that title), but there’s no deal. There’s no content at all; there’s no bill to work on. And I think if you read what he came out with today (Monday), it basically is a Green Real Deal—what it takes to get greener—less carbon. But they’re going to have a vote on that, and Mitch wants everybody onboard, I understand that, and we’ll see what happens. But it’s unbelievable that we can’t get an energy bill on the floor, but we can get this on the floor.”

“That’s the real problem, that we would spend the time (doing this), and draw the lines even further” said Murkowski…“but I find this idea of a Green New Deal distracting from solutions.” She went on to say that she recognizes that the country wants a lower-carbon economy, but “we also have to work within the system, and make sure we don’t wreck the economy.”

Continuing the theme of cooperation, Manchin offered that “I’m never going to make it difficult for the senator (Murkowski) to do her job. I’m never going to make it difficult at home.” In response, Murkowski noted, “We haven’t given up on an energy bill, and yet look at how much we’ve gotten done in the old (regulatory) framework. But we have things that need updating; things like permitting issues, transmission problems and cybersecurity.”

Murkowski said that on the subject of permitting, “we recognize that we have some issues to deal with at FERC—we need another person (commissioner) there. The Northeast is an example of where we have some challenges.”

On the subject of coal, Manchin said, “The country needs them (miners), and the world needs metallurgical coal, which West Virginia has in abundance. We can mine it safely. I’m sorry, but eliminating it in the U.S. and West Virginia is not going to eliminate the demand in Asia.” He predicted that for two more decades, coal is “going to be 25% of our production.” Added Murkowski, “Here, in this country, most of our coal facilities are, on average, 40 years old. But in China, they’re only 15 years old, so they’re not going to be wanting to shut those (facilities) any time soon.”

Regarding her own state, Murkowski said, “Things are good, from an energy perspective, in Alaska. We’ve seen some exciting finds. We have great opportunity coming from the NPRA. And we’ve got a federal partner (for Alaska) that’s willing to facilitate access.”

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