Lisa Murkowski: Fossil Fuels Can Fund Clean Energy Development

Sen. Lisa Murkowski explains how traditional energy sources can fund moving towards renewable energy.

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Clean energy may be a hot topic in Washington, but oil and natural gas shouldn't be left out of the equation, says Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She recently unveiled her Energy 20/20 blueprint to "restart" the conversation about the nation's energy policy. Murkowski recently spoke to U.S. News about her plan and how more development of fossil fuels can actually bring us closer to cleaner energy. Excerpts:

What role do fossil fuels play in the future of U.S. energy policy?

The more traditional fuel sources we have relied on as a nation—coal, oil, and natural gas—I'm hoping they can allow us the financial springboard to move to the next generation of energy sources: renewables and alternatives. We recognize that these technologies can be expensive. How we move forward with a level of R&D support that will be meaningful allows us to really build on and enhance our energy opportunities in this country. I look at what we have—our traditional natural resource base—as helping move us to that cleaner, more diverse energy supply. Our energy policy in this country needs to focus on affordability, abundance, truly clean resources, and diverse and secure [energy sources].

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You've said abundance has replaced scarcity when it comes to our domestic energy sources. How does that change energy policy going forward?

We have had a tendency to focus on what we don't have, and if we don't have something, we have to look to others for it. That leads to a level of energy, economic, and national security vulnerability. That's not a good place for us to be. How do you change that? You look to what it is that you have, and access to better technologies allows us to do more. We are so blessed in this country with an abundance of natural resources. We are unique, and the fact that we have so much and we now recognize that we have so much—it's incumbent on us to change the tone of the conversation, and that's what Energy 20/20 is designed to do.

How do we eliminate subsidies and not increase the cost of dirtier fuels, and still promote growth in clean energy?

When we have new leasing opportunities [for oil and gas development], we should take a portion of the royalties and direct them toward a clean energy trust. We talk a lot in Congress about how we're going to encourage more development in renewables, and we put in place a subsidy that's good for two years. Then Congress argues and bickers over whether or not we're going to extend it. As a consequence, nothing happens because we've put so much uncertainty into the prospect of these subsidies. I don't want a sporadic policy that you can't rely on. I want to know that we are putting our muscle behind R&D that will build out these breakthrough technologies that will allow us to be more clean, diverse, and secure. But that costs money. So let's pay for it out of the trust fund that would come from leasing new federal lands.

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Your proposal sounds similar to the one President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address.

I was encouraged when the president proposed what he called the Energy Security Trust. It's essentially the same concept. I'm inquiring to find out where the seed money would come from for the trust, but I think it's something we can work on together. I don't care what energy sources you're most interested in, whatever it is, if we have a trust fund we can turn to, to help with the R&D, we're all going to be winners.