SENATE:

GOP to decide fate of top energy spot today

Senate Republicans today are expected to remove Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) from her spot at the top of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and to choose a successor.

If Murkowski is ousted it paves the way for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the second-ranking Republican on the energy panel, to take the reins. But Burr is currently ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, which he would have to drop to take the leadership position on energy.

Other possible candidates for the top slot are Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Both have said they would only take it if Burr declines the position.

Burr said he is considering the chairmanship, although he is currently focused on his own re-election bid in North Carolina. Burr is finishing his first term and is favored to win re-election over North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D).

Murkowski's spot hangs in the balance after GOP committee members cast their decision on her fate by secret ballot yesterday. The GOP leadership has not disclosed the results, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Murkowski's position will be "addressed" this afternoon at a GOP caucus meeting (E&ENews PM, Sept. 21).

Murkowski's position within the committee and GOP caucus is in flux after her decision last week to run for re-election as a write-in candidate against the winner of the Alaska Republican primary, attorney Joe Miller. Murkowski said she decided to run against the tea party-backed Miller because he represented outside rather than Alaskan interests.

Her decision has caused angst among her Republican colleagues who worry that Murkowski's run may split the conservative vote and allow the Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams, to take the Senate seat.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has particularly railed against Murkowski, describing her decision in a recent fundraising letter as a "betrayal" of the Republican Party, as well as calling her a "big-tent hypocrite" and a "Republican-in-name-only."

Today's announcement will determine whether DeMint's fellow GOPers feel likewise, although most of them declined to answer questions about it yesterday.

Murkowksi already submitted her resignation as vice chairwoman of the Republican caucus last week after McConnell told her he could not support her in a leadership position if she decided to run.

Burr's energy stands

Burr is somewhat of a mystery on energy issues, as he has not led the charge for any particular industry, although he is a strong supporter of nuclear energy. North Carolina also possesses a sizeable renewable energy industry, spurred by a 2007 law requiring utilities to meet 12.5 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy or energy efficiency by 2020.

Overall Burr leans more conservative than Murkowski on energy and environmental issues, according to rankings by the League of Conservation Voters. He has a lifetime score of 7 percent on the issues, with 9 percent for 2009 and 12 percent for the 110th Congress. Murkowski has a lifetime score of 18 percent, although she scored a 36 percent for her votes on environmental bills in 2009 and 27 percent for the 110th Congress.

But Burr may not be as strong an advocate for oil and gas issues as the current ranking member. Burr had previously rejected the idea of drilling for oil and gas off North Carolina's shores, although he endorsed Obama's decision this spring to open the East Coast up for drilling.

"If resources off the coast of North Carolina can be produced responsibly, they should be part of the solution," he said after the White House announcement.

Burr is currently the ranking member of the National Parks Subcommittee, although he has not been extremely vocal on those issues either. Burr did object to the acquisition of more national park land as the National Park Service faces a maintenance backlog of more than $9 billion.

The Murkowski question is only the beginning of a make-over for the Republican side of the Senate energy committee. The committee will lose at least three other GOP members at the start of next session due to retirement or a primary loss: Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Bob Bennett of Utah.