Murkowski readies for reins of Senate Energy

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiPassing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy Overnight Energy: Dakota pipeline standoff heats up Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything MORE (R-Alaska) is gearing up to take control of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as the balance of power shifts to Republicans next year.

The GOP picked up seven Senate seats (and counting) Tuesday night, giving the party majority control, and that means a leadership shuffle for committees.

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A Senate Energy committee under Murkowski may not seem a drastic change from one under Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on its face, as both lawmakers support fossil fuels and expanded drilling, but Murkowski will have an easier time rallying her Republican colleagues behind her than Landrieu did liberal Democrats.

"Voters clearly want a change of direction on energy and resource policy,” Robert Dillon, top energy aide to Murkowski, told The Hill on Wednesday. “Sen. Murkowski is grateful for this historic opportunity to work with her colleagues to ensure Americans have access to energy resources that are abundant and affordable.”

Dillon said Murkowski will run the committee under the rules of regular order, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged on the floor if he is voted majority leader.

“That will be a big improvement over the way the floor operates now,” Dillion said.

With Murkowski at the helm, Dillion stressed, the committee and entire upper chamber could push through bills that “never saw the light of day under Democratic leadership.”

“The current gridlock on the Senate floor means there are going to be bills left over from this Congress that could get bipartisan support if they were processed under regular order,” Dillion said. “Those bills are candidates for early consideration.”

Dillion didn’t specify which legislation Murkowski would like to work on first, but Keystone XL, natural gas exports and expanding offshore and onshore drilling will likely be priorities for her and Republicans.

“Some examples of things that we’re very likely to be voting on: approving the Keystone XL pipeline,” McConnell said in an interview with Time.

Murkowski is also expected to use her new position as head of the committee to advance the conversation on lifting a decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Finally, Murkowski's new power will allow her to fight for a proposed Alaskan road through a federal wildlife refuge. The ongoing battle over the road with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has intensified in the last year.

Jewell won’t budge, sticking by her decision to reject the 17-mile dirt road from King Cove to an airport in southwestern Alaska.

Murkowski’s new gavel might prove useful in the fight.

“The committee under Democratic leadership has shown a reluctance for conducting oversight of this administration — that is something Sen. Murkowski believes needs to change,” Dillon said.

Also notable is the second gavel Murkowski will wield on the Appropriation's subcommittee that controls Interior's budget.

Using her second gavel, Murkowski can push bills that tighten finances for Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies critical to the president's climate agenda.

There is also a strong possibility McConnell will tether anti-EPA riders to bills flowing through the subcommittee.