WASHINGTON -- In the wake of a debate over the Keystone XL pipeline that also became a debate about climate change, the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee said Thursday that she is open to considering climate provisions in a broader energy package she intends to work on this year.
"When you're talking about energy, I think there is a very legitimate discussion to be had about climate," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who took over as chair last month, told reporters. "How we might factor that into a bigger package is something that obviously has yet to be discussed."
"The priorities I have placed on my view of a good energy policy for this country [are] that it's abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure," she said. "I don't just skip over the clean part. It's important to me. I think it should be important to all members."
Finding common ground on energy policy will be a test of the new majority, which spent most of the first month of its new session debating the controversial Keystone bill and a raft of amendments.
The Senate did pass an amendment stating that climate change "is real and not a hoax," which won 98 votes. But a measure that acknowledged that human activity contributes to climate change fell one vote short of passing after its sponsor, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), voted against it. Another amendment, which states that climate change is real and "human activity significantly contributes" to it and was sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), got 50 votes -- not enough to pass.
In floor remarks, Murkowski urged her colleagues to vote against the Schatz amendment based on the inclusion of the word "significantly." But the measure did reveal some signs of movement among five Republican senators: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. And 14 Republicans, including Murkowski, voted for the Hoeven amendment stating that human activity played at least some role.
Murkowski has said she wants to pursue an energy package that brings together a variety of measures looking at energy infrastructure, supply, efficiency, and accountability in enforcing current policies. She has indicated that it could include provisions on issues such as energy efficiency, natural gas and crude exports, and nuclear waste storage. Congress has not approved major energy legislation since 2007.
But tensions are high between Murkowski and the Obama administration. She has objected to the president's recent move to make the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to oil drilling, and to leave portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas out of the proposal for the next offshore oil and gas lease sale.
Murkowski said she is working with the ranking Democrat on the energy committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), to find areas of agreement, however.
"We both agree that it's long overdue that we have a bigger energy reform package," Murkowski said, indicating that she expects to start hearings in late winter or early spring. "It's not easy. It's never easy. But it's long overdue."