FAIRBANKS — Washington and the rest of the nation awoke Wednesday to find Democrats gained some power as a result of Tuesday’s election.
President Obama won re-election. Democrats, to the surprise of many, enhanced their control of the Senate and gained some seats in the House, which remains under Republican control.
The three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation — Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Rep. Don Young — offered their post-election thoughts on some topics of interest to Alaska late last week.
White House energy policy has always been a leading concern for
Alaska’s congressional delegation, whether the current members or their predecessors.
The decades-long campaign by the state’s leaders and the oil industry to get Congress and a president, any president, to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling doesn’t appear any closer to success under President Obama and a divided Congress.
The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, created in 1923 by President Harding, could see its first oil produced in 2015 following the granting of a federal permit that members of Alaska’s congressional delegation said was the subject of years of delay under the Obama administration.
Here’s what the members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have to say on energy policy:
Murkowski: “We saw what the first term of an Obama administration looked like when it came to energy. We were able to make a little bit of progress, but we were clearly pushed back in a couple of areas. NPRA is a prime example of that.
“My concern, of course, is that we’ll continue to see further delays not unlike what we saw in the first term, and perhaps more accelerated in the second. That is why I was a supporter of Gov. Romney.
“We’ve got a second term and my job as ranking member on the Energy Committee is to figure out how to deal with it. I think we know a little bit of what to expect.”
Begich: “I think they (the White House) also recognize that, to be very blunt about it, having myself and now Heidi (Heitkamp) of North Dakota, a Democrat who is good energy and someone great for Alaska, and Joe Donnelly from Indiana who voted for ANWR (in the House) in the Senate … we’re a bigger bloc than when I came in four years ago. It was just Mary Landrieu and me (among Democrats).
“It doesn’t mean we are going to win every battle, because there are some that have a certain view of Alaska.”
Young: “I think it’s a disaster. You saw what happened to the stock market. When we spend money on energy, we don’t spend it on other things.
Coal-fired power plants
News reports have stated that the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama has proposed tighter limits on mercury, sulfur dioxide and pollutants that would make it more expensive for utilities to use coal as a source of their electricity generation.
The EPA has also proposed limiting the amount of carbon dioxide new power plants can emit, potentially making the cost of building new coal-fired plants too much for utilities, according to news reports.
National environmental groups have taken aim at coal power plants, too.
Meanwhile, coal remains an important fuel source in Alaska and for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which will need a new plant to provide heat and power to the campus as the current plant nears the end of its projected 50-year life. Coal remains the most cost-effective fuel source for a new plant, according to the university.
Coal is currently the source of about 85 percent of the energy at UAF.
Here’s what the members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have to say about coal:
Young: “We do have an abundance of carbon in this world and we will continue to produce that carbon. It’s still the cheapest way to move an object.”
“Coal has to be burned. The idea we are not going to burn coal is as dumb as a mud fence. ... We need heat, health and economy.”
Begich: “I think overall the president’s position of coal as a part of the energy mix is there. But here’s what’s happening: In the Lower 48, these power plants that are coal powered, (natural) gas is so cheap now and so available to some of these plants that people are making financial decision to switch.”
About a new power plant for UAF: “We’ll be helping the university to succeed.”
Murkowski: “You have had members of the administration saying clearly there will be no new coal plants in this country. That is not a good message if you are the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) trying to figure out how to provide the power there. I think it is a problem for us.
“How we deal with the administration that in my view is probably going to take a more stepped up approach against certain energy sources, most specifically coal, is going to be our challenge.”
The fiscal cliff
Across-the-board 10 percent cuts in discretionary spending in the budget are scheduled to take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts to prevent them. The cuts are required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 and were seen as the ultimate leverage that would force Congress to approve measures that will reduce the nation’s budget deficit.
So far, that hasn’t happened.
Here’s what Alaska’s congressional delegation says on the topic, which also is referred to as “sequestration”:
Begich: “I think there might be a short bill to create some cuts in the budget. The longer we delay is the less options we have and the bigger debt we get into. It’s not complicated. It means we have to make some tough calls. It’s not going to be fun, not going to be easy.
“For example, … let’s resolve the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) fix, let’s do some short small business extenders, let’s maybe do some cuts … I think that’s where we can do a small package so that people feel confident as a group as Democrats and Republicans that we can make some steps and not blow us to pieces in the meantime.
“There are going to be people who call my office and say ‘how dare you do this’ and ‘how dare you do that.’”
Murkowski: “I am one who believes we are going to figure out a path forward. There are not too many in Congress who see (mandatory cuts) as the best move for our country. … Now we are going to go around that hammer and say give us a bit more time, this time we promise we will do it right.
“I do not think you will see across-the-board cuts. I think definitely we will see smaller cuts. Already the conversations are under way, identifying where those cuts can be. A lot of the groundwork is already laid. I think we will be able to get this smaller package approved without much controversy. These are cuts in areas that have previously been vetted.”
Young: “I think what will occur is we will kick the can down road.
“(House Speaker John Boehner) has to be careful. A lot of us are not going to be conciliatory to the president unless he comes our way too. We’re not going to let the president set the agenda for the nation.
“If he doesn’t come our way with ideas to address entitlements ... he’s not going to have really smooth sailing.”
“I pushed the idea of we have plenty of room to cut. Half of our money is spent in administration and regulation. Half of it. We need better bang for the buck. There’s plenty of room there to cut.
“Let’s be more efficient.”
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor