The following interview was conducted by Edward Hild - Principal in Buchanan’s Government Relations Practice.
1. When the GOP tax bill passed late last year, it included a critical provision you’ve been pushing for, mandating that the federal government hold lease sales in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Why was it so important that this provision was included in the bill, not just for your state of Alaska but for the country as a whole?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the small, non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, known as the “1002 Area” or Coastal Plain, contains an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil – enough to produce one million barrels per day for nearly 30 years. This is the largest conventional onshore prospect in all of North America, and Alaskans have fought for almost four decades to allow for its responsible development.
Opening the 1002 Area is the single-most important step we could take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth. It will put Alaska and the entire nation on a path toward greater prosperity and growth by creating jobs, keeping energy affordable for families and businesses, and reducing the federal deficit by tens of billions of dollars.
2. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, you are one of the country’s top experts when it comes to energy policy and one the most powerful people when it comes to creating it. Last year, Senator Maria Cantwell and yourself introduced the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 (ENRA), and I know you hope to push that forward aggressively in 2018. Can you explain the importance of this bill and what you hope it accomplishes?
Believe it or not, it has now been over a decade since Congress enacted comprehensive legislation, so it is past time to modernize our nation’s energy and resource policies. We came very close to achieving that goal in the last Congress – our bill passed the Senate by a vote of 85-12, and we nearly completed conference negotiations with our House colleagues.
Our bill contained a wide array of priorities for nearly 80 members of the Senate, so we knew we couldn’t just give up on it. Senator Cantwell and I spent the first several months of this Congress updating it, and added it directly to the Senate calendar upon introduction.
ENRA contains a total of eleven titles that reflect bicameral, bipartisan negotiations. Among other priorities, it will save energy, expand supply, boost innovation, modernize and secure the electric grid, promote energy trade, protect sportsmen’s access, strengthen our mineral security, bolster the energy workforce, facilitate better management of federal lands, and minimize risks from natural hazards.
3. You’ve spoken at length about how you hope ENRA can be a true bipartisan bill, and certainly working with Senator Cantwell shows that bipartisan energy policy is possible. Why was that critical in the creation of this bill specifically, and how does it help the bill deliver more tangible results both in the short term and the long term?
We are operating in a narrowly divided Senate (51-49), which extends down to our committee (12-11). Working together is always my preference because it gives us the greatest odds of legislative success. Our committee members don’t agree on everything, but we have worked hard to focus on the areas where we do agree, and to craft meaningful legislation encompassing them. In this case, ENRA is not only an opening for bipartisan accomplishment, but more importantly, a significant opportunity to boost our economic growth, improve our infrastructure, enhance our energy security, and bolster our global competitiveness.
4. Additionally, you’ve also been pushing hard for the country to make investments to upgrade and modernize our aging infrastructure and have highlighted the challenges with U.S. permitting processes. What is it that needs to be done to make upgrading our energy infrastructure easier and keep those investment dollars here in the U.S.?
The United States is home to some of the most robust and reliable energy infrastructure in the world, but it is almost always an afterthought—until it breaks down. I strongly support the administration’s decision to make infrastructure a national priority, and it has also been a top priority for our committee. We have held multiple hearings to examine our needs and opportunities, ranging from transmission lines and pipelines to the public lands maintenance backlog. Our goal is to be ready to contribute to a broader infrastructure package, and we have good ideas ready to go. ENRA seeks to address many of our challenges, including permitting—perhaps the most important aspect of this issue. We’ve focused on streamlining the permitting process for LNG exports, enhancing electricity delivery, and improving the regulatory process for hydropower, natural gas pipelines, and mineral projects.
5. Overall, how can our country strengthen its national energy policy in a way that benefits our businesses, their employees and our economy as a whole?
The first step to making it easier for companies to do business and hire more employees is reforming our resource permitting policies. That will help boost production of our world-class energy and mineral deposits while creating jobs, generating revenues, providing affordable energy for businesses and families, and strengthening national security. We also need a serious, sustained focus on innovation—smart policies that will help advance the next generation of technologies to make our supply cleaner, more efficient, more reliable, and more abundant.
6. When it comes to energy regulations, most businesses are simply looking for certainty—assurance that rules won’t be changing in the near future and forcing them to readjust. How can the government create manageable regulations that are fair to businesses while also protecting workers and the environment?
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about climate policy, energy legislation, or tax reform—businesses need to be able to understand what the rules are, within a stable regulatory system, so they can plan for the future. In talking with executives in the energy sector, what I hear more than anything is the desire for greater regulatory and economic certainty. So whether it is legislation or regulation, we need to avoid duplicative or overly burdensome requirements.
7. What should energy companies keep in mind when meeting with their representatives about how the government can help their business? What’s the best way for businesses to approach their representatives about creating meaningful energy policies and regulations that don’t stifle growth?
It all starts with having your voice heard. There is nothing more important. Legislators and local officials aren’t necessarily up-to-date on everything a business in their region is doing, so it is up to that organization to be proactive in telling their story—what they’re working on and what they’re looking to accomplish. Of course, it also helps to have these meetings well before you need something done on a regulatory or legislative level, as a lot of these things take time.
8. Many proponents of clean energy say the only way forward is the complete elimination of fossil fuels and a move to fully renewable resources such as solar energy. In the Southern U.S., that’s great but in parts of the country—especially in Alaska—individual home solar energy is simply not possible. There is not enough sunlight to make such an energy source work. How are you working to manage the need for clean, renewable energy with the production of necessary resources like natural gas, oil and others?
I support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions but recognize that it is unrealistic and counterproductive to try to eliminate the use of fossil fuels overnight by “keeping it in the ground.” It would hurt all of us, particularly the poor. What I am working toward is a balance—through an “all of the above” or “no regrets” policy—where we produce the energy we need, here at home, while developing new technologies, often using local resources, that will lower costs and emissions. You might be surprised by the deployment of solar in some parts of Alaska, but we need to recognize that in others, hydropower or geothermal or another resource has greater potential.
9. In an age of political polarization, you have demonstrated a rare willingness to go against your party as you did in the Summer when you voted against ACA repeal, and you've also been willing to speak out against the current Presidential administration when you disagree. What has made you so willing to make these decisions at a time when so many of your colleagues are unwilling to do so?
First and foremost, my job is to represent Alaskans and the state of Alaska. When it comes to policy, this administration is aligned well with Alaska priorities. However, if I encounter legislation or actions that would have harmful impacts to Alaska, I stand up and speak out. Everything I do and every decision I make as a Senator is for Alaska. Those decisions can be difficult, but that’s part of the job.