Murkowski sees GOP traction for ‘clean’ energy standard

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Saturday a “clean” energy standard for electric utilities could gain traction among Republicans in the next Congress even though it would create a new federal mandate.

Murkowski, the top GOP member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the standard should allow wide discretion for states and regions, which would help build support.

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“I think there is a level of flexibility that allows you to achieve the goal of reduced [greenhouse-gas] emissions, but gives you the ability to determine what it is you are going to do and how you are going to do it. I don’t think that is a mandate that scares people away,” she told The Hill in the Capitol. “I think you can have a pretty good conversation.”

The Alaska Republican is among the lawmakers backing the idea of requiring the nation’s utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from low-carbon sources such as new nuclear power plants, renewables and coal plants if they can trap emissions (a technology that’s not yet commercialized).

The “clean” standard gained new cachet when Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently called for talks with Congress on the idea in the wake of cap-and-trade’s demise. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is also weighing a proposal, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has called the idea an area with potential for bipartisan cooperation.

Largely Democratic proposals for a more narrowly crafted “renewable electricity standard” have sputtered.


Murkowski said a broader “clean” standard would address regional imbalances in the amount of renewable resources available. Southeastern lawmakers in particular have complained that a renewables mandate would be too difficult to meet and open their states up to noncompliance costs, although environmentalists disagree that the region lacks enough renewable sources.

“It is a mandate in the sense that this is the direction that we want to go as a country, but you determine in your region what works for you. One of the problems with a renewable energy standard was in some parts of the country, there was not an even playing field,” Murkowski said.

“Allow a region, a state, to kind of focus on the art of the possible, and if they don’t have geothermal resources for instance, or the wind energy, let them focus on nuclear, let them focus on those ways they can meet that," she added.

Murkowski said she was supportive of the idea before energy discussions became “mired” in battles over cap-and-trade as the top option for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“I am kind of excited to be looking to how we can move towards a clean energy standard. Let’s figure out how we can facilitate more in the nuclear field, how we can really focus on these clean energy sources which ultimately do reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

“We have now been kind of freed up because we are no longer focused on cap-and-trade as the sole policy initiative,” Murkowski said.

This post was updated at 8:51 a.m. on Dec. 20 to note that some southeastern lawmakers fear their region lacks enough renewable resources to meet a "renewable electricity standard."