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Highlights of Senator Murkowski’s Energy 20/20 Policy Blueprint

On Monday, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a comprehensive, 121-page energy policy blueprint featuring about 200 policy recommendations spanning fossil fuels, clean energy technology, environmental responsibility, and effective government. “Energy 20/20 presents my vision for how we can move forward,” the Senator noted in a speech during the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) Winter Committee Meetings. “Call it a conversation starter.” As The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer points out in a great breakdown of the document, while “many of the proposals…are long-standing items on the Republican wish list,” “she also touches on smaller issues that don’t get as much attention.” More importantly, Senator Murkowski has included several policy recommendations that mirror ITIF’s own – here are a few highlights.

First, Energy 20/20 calls for greatly expanded domestic energy production, involving everything from oil and natural gas to more overlooked energy sources like hydropower and geothermal. In regard to oil and gas, for example, the blueprint advocates opening up the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as 2,000 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), for exploration. While the Senator would direct the majority of the resulting “rents, royalties, bonus bids, and corporate income taxes” towards deficit reduction, the remaining revenue would be allocated to a new Advanced Energy Trust Fund to finance the development of renewable power, energy efficiency and advanced vehicles. ITIF laid out almost the exact same proposal in 2011 in Lemons to Lemonade, with revenue from expanded oil drilling going towards “a clean energy innovation trust fund that invests in radical new technologies”:

The more socially desirable goal—the transition to clean energy—could directly benefit from the less desirable goal of drilling. The most pressing need for clean energy innovation is public investment, but this has been hard to come by in a time of fiscal austerity. Fortunately, the economic value of the nation’s offshore resources could offer a substantial revenue stream for exactly that investment we need, so long as policymakers are willing and able to harness it, as they occasionally have in a bipartisan fashion in the past. In other words, if we have to drill, we should leverage it to make it work for clean energy.

As ITIF noted much more recently, linking energy production to energy programs in such a manner is a logical way of ensuring consistent, long-term funding for clean energy innovation.

Second, Senator Murkowski notes that there are 39 programs across six government agencies dealing with battery and energy storage R&D, as noted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and calls for their consolidation. Similarly, in the recent Shifting Gears report, ITIF pointed to the same GAO study and called for the creation of a BatteryShot Initiative “as part of a government-wide effort to better coordinate battery innovation between DOD and DOE, between agencies within each department, and between the public and private sector.” “By setting clear, aggressive goals for technology improvement,” the report concludes, “BatteryShot would not only better focus government innovation efforts, but also create a more competitive environment among the various federal entities working on breakthrough batteries.”

Third, Energy 20/20 proposes that federal research and development funding be increased and points to the American Energy Innovation Council’s 2010 report, A Business Plan for America’s Energy Future, as a potential model. That report specifically calls for the scaling of annual federal investment in clean energy innovation to a minimum of $16 billion, which is line with ITIF’s own recommendation that annual federal investment should be at least $15 billion. (The $15 billion figure was highlighted in ITIF’s Winning the Race 2012 memo on energy policy, as well as a recent blog post outlining potential energy policy initiatives in the second Obama administration.)

Of course, as much as there is to like in Energy 20/20, the policy blueprint contains some questionable elements. For example, the document argues for a greater policy focus on basic research, but as ITIF has noted, basic research is simply not enough to spur needed levels of innovation. Energy 20/20 is also arguably overly concerned with expanding fossil fuel production. Nevertheless, it is not for nothing that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin recently stated in reference to possible energy policy in 2013, “I have never been more optimistic than I am right now with Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski.” Indeed, Senator Murkowski and her Democratic counterpart on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee have renewed the push for bipartisan energy innovation policy and Energy 20/20 seems to be, as she characterized it, a good policy conversation starter.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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