New energy politics changes likely to affect Alaska

The U.S. Capitol at night.

The U.S. Capitol at night. (Photo by Adam Fagen/Flickr CC)

In Washington, at both the White House and in Congress, 2014 brings changes to the politics of energy that are likely to affect Alaska.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is starting the year by reconsidering the crude oil export ban. The ban has been in place since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. Then as now, supporters say it lessens American dependence on foreign oil. But oil production is surging in the Lower 48 now, and imports are declining.

Rayola Dougher of the American Petroleum Institute says not allowing sales overseas may be keeping some oil locked in, suppressing revenue and job growth.

“So what you want to do is always expand your market, expand your production. It’s always a net economic benefit for the United States, no matter what product you’re looking at,” Dougher says.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has also suggested it’s time to rethink the ban. Ban proponents, though, say allowing exports could raise fuel prices for American consumers.  Sen. Murkowski is planning to release a white paper on the subject next week, followed by a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Murkowski is the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee. This year chairmanship of the panel is likely to pass from Ron Wyden of Oregon to one of the oil industry’s favorite Democrats: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. That could mean a new pro-development direction for the committee. Murkowski energy spokesman Robert Dillon says the senator has worked with Wyden on common goals for hydropower, parks and public lands.

“With Sen. Landrieu, they share a common interest when it comes to oil and gas exploration and production, so their interests dovetail there nicely.”

Together, for instance, Landrieu and Murkowski have pressed for federal revenue sharing for states with offshore production.

John Podesta (Photo by Center for American Progress)

John Podesta (Photo by Center for American Progress)

Meanwhile, environmentalists are hoping John Podesta can slow that momentum. He was President Clinton’s chief of staff, and he is re-joining the White House as a counselor to the president on energy and climate.

Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club says Podesta is likely to pay a lot of attention to Alaska.

“With President Clinton he was pretty active on protecting the Arctic Refuge. He was a big backer of that. He was a strong champion of the Tongass National Forest and the entire forest system with the roadless rule. So on a couple of really important Alaska issues he was very, very active in the past, and we expect him to continue to be active now with the Obama administration.”

One of the big Alaska issues facing the Administration is the scope of future lease sales for the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Podesta wrote an op-ed a year ago claiming there’s no safe way to drill offshore in the Arctic.

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