Murkowski: Obama should embrace lifting crude export ban

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Tuesday took the first step in a conversation she hopes will rattle the cages of lawmakers and the administration moving forward, coming out in favor of lifting a decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

And she thinks President Obama should address the issue in his State of the Union address this year. 

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"Think about the impact on this economy of energy production and jobs, that is where the action has been," Murkowski said to reporters on Tuesday, following an event at the Brookings Institution on the nation's export policies. 

"So when [President Obama] wants to talk about how he is going to move this country forward in the last half of his administration, he has got to acknowledge the positive impact of energy."

"And I think if he really wants to fully appreciate ... how we can do more as a world leader when it comes to not only energy production but alleviating energy poverty around the globe and addressing the environment in a constructive way, I'd include it in my State of the Union," the senator added.

The controversial debate on whether to lift the crude export ban established in the 1970s, amid the Arab oil embargoes, is no longer a thing of the past. Murkowski said it isn't an idea people can laugh at as an impossibility any more. 

Whether there will be strong support from her colleagues is another question. Murkowski has yet to talk to her fellow lawmakers on the white paper she released Tuesday, which touts her detailed stance on ending the ban. 

"I don't know that it's a shift in opinion so much as it's being discussed for the first time," she said. "My point in all of this is really to start the dialogue."

And in starting that dialogue, the Alaska senator hopes the administration will feel the pressure to act. 

"I am hopeful that I won't have to introduce legislation," Murkowski said. "I think the executive has the authority, whether it's the president in making a determination in the national interest or the Commerce Department through authorities that they have currently."

"I am very aware we are dealing with some older laws," Murkowski said, adding that if the Commerce Department doesn't have the ability, she would work to strengthen the its authority through legislation. 

"This is really more of an effort in modernization rather than a wholesale rewrite."

Oil giants and petroleum producers like ExxonMobil back the effort, and calls for a repeal of the ban grew late last year. 

But many refiners support the ban, claiming that its repeal would hurt the industry.

To which, Murkowski says: Deal with it. 

"They are going to have to deal with it within the industry," she said. "I think from a policy perspective it's good policy again to allow for that level of trade. My interest is not to protect the refineries' bottom line."

Vulnerable lawmakers in the coming elections could be hesitant to touch the crude oil export ban, arguing it might hurt gasoline prices. 

That doesn't worry Murkowski. 

"We need to remind Americans and Congress that when you increase supply it actually helps to reduce price," Murkowski said.

She advises lawmakers who think prices go down only when you keep the product within the U.S. to "keep in mind that oil is a global commodity."