18 Feb 2013

‘Energy Security Trust’ concept provides glimmer of bipartisan cooperation-but check the details

Written by Jim Pierobon

To hear Republican Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican  on the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, agree with President Barack Obama on a major plank of blueprint initially outlined by a forward-thinking coalition of business and military leaders — the Energy Security Leadership Council — could lead one to think maybe a rock peeled off a meteor like the one that burned out over Russia and knocked some common sense into a few key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Crazier things have happened in Washington.

The Leadership Council’s proposal calls for an “Energy Security Trust Fund as part of its 2013 National Energy Strategy for Energy Security (go to page 76, actual PDF page 80). This was the first such proposal and promulgated that a portion of revenues from any new energy development proposed by the Leadership Council with the purpose “strictly limited to supporting R&D programs related to oil displacement in the transportation sector.”

ANWR portion of Alaska overlaying US map

The gold portion of the Alaska inlay represents the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge where both the Energy Security Leadership Council and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, recommend new drilling with funds earmarked for clean energy development. CREDIT: LibertyWorks.com

Notably, the Leadership Council recommends the Trust Fund be seeded with revenues from “new Outer Continental Shelf…production” and “limited development of the Arctic national Wildlife Refuge using extended reach drilling ans strict surface occupancy restrictions.”

Murkowski on February 4 presented a report outlining a similar “Advanced Energy Trust Fund”.  Fast-forward to page 110 (112 of the entire PDF) in Murkowski’s “Vision for America’s Energy Future”. There, she envisions a separate Treasury account administered by the Department of Energy that pays for provisions in the plan. Funds would be applied to “the most promising and cost-effective proposals in many technology-neutral categories, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative fuels and advanced vehicles.”

Then came President’s “Energy Security Trust” in the State of the Union address. February 12. “Much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.” Obama said. “So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and development to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”

Note: Obama did not say “new” revenue, which would almost certainly raise the ire of many Republicans. Read the energy and climate portion of Obama’s address here.

This convergence of an energy security fund of some sort almost makes you think someone is orchestrating this behind the scenes.

Not so fast.

Under her “Advanced Energy Trust Fund proposal,” Murkowski said new production on previously-closed federal lands such as the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and portions of the Atlantic coast could provide a substantial source of new revenue to fund research on the most promising new energy technologies, while paying down the national debt. Obama did not go that far. His proposal does mention public lands but it he did not mention the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR.

Proposals to earmark billions of dollars from leasing bids and production royalties for alternative energy programs have been hanging around energy policy circles for years.

The White House says it backs faster permitting in areas where development is already allowed. And it hopes to beef up efforts at the Bureau of Land Management, which regulates onshore oil-and-gas drilling. Obama vowed to “keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Whether Murkowski and Obama can find enough of a middle ground is one hurdle such a proposal faces. Persuading the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is another and much taller hurdle.

At least this idea has common bedfellows.

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