Top Republican senator on energy issues Lisa Murkowski unveiled an energy blueprint Monday chock full of about 200 policy recommendations, including increased development of the nation's abundant natural gas and oil resources, and the establishment of an "Advanced Energy Trust Fund" to finance clean energy research and help pay down the national debt.
"Call it a conversation starter," Murkowski—who represents a major oil-producing state—said at a press conference Monday. "It is intended to be a source of ideas for discrete legislation that can attract, after vigorous debate, a strong base of support from a political and geographically diverse group of Members."
Among other policy recommendations and goals contained in the blueprint—dubbed Energy 20/20—are approving the Keystone XL pipeline, easing permitting regulations for oil and gas production on federal lands, and research and development into energy storage technologies that would make wind and solar more cost-effective.
Murkowski conceded that climate change has to be a factor in considering the nation's energy policy, but argued that Congress is unlikely to move forward with initiatives such as cap-and-trade and the carbon tax. That's where the "Advanced Energy Trust Fund" part of the blueprint comes in.
Using increased revenues from more oil and natural gas production, the fund would finance research into cleaner, more climate-friendly energy technologies.
But for some critics of the plan, the promise of future research and development of clean energy technologies isn't enough. According to Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sen. Murkowski's energy blueprint stresses oil and natural gas drilling while overlooking policy tools that can reduce carbon pollution and advance cleaner energy technology.
"Sen. Murkowski's energy blueprint for the future reads more like a cut-and-paste job from the fossil fuel industry's playbook of the past," Matzner said in a statement. "We need a plan that moves us forward to the 21st century, not one that keeps us wedded to the past."
But Murkowski claims her plan is a balanced one that allows the nation to reap the economic benefits of energy production while still reasonably protecting the environment.
"[The blueprint] recognizes that the federal regulation of energy production is too onerous in some cases and is preventing job creation while also making an attempt to promote all energy approaches," says Nick Loris, energy policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
A new frame of reference is crucial as the United States assumes a new role in the global energy conversation, one where technological advancements have propelled the nation into a country that can provide for all its energy needs with room to spare. A recent report from British Petroleum projected that the United States could become energy independent by as early as 2030, thanks in large part to the rise of shale oil and gas in the lower 48 states.
"Instead of absence, we find ourselves on the verge of abundance," Murkowski said. "There may never have been a time when we have had more potential for production—or for energy productivity."