Murkowski looks to nudge Trump on climate

By Geof Koss | 05/18/2017 06:51 AM EDT

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may prove pivotal to whether the United States stays in the Paris climate accord.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may prove pivotal to whether the United States stays in the Paris climate accord. Photo by Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist F. Julian Carroll, courtesy of Flickr.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is quietly advocating for the Trump administration to remain engaged in international climate discussions, a position she plans to outline in an upcoming meeting she requested with White House adviser Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman said yesterday she was trying to reschedule the meeting, originally planned for last week. Murkowski told E&E News she reached out "because the issue of climate change is important to me."

"I don’t know where this administration is really going with it now," she added. "What I’ve read is that she is one of the ones who is in a position to help influence some decisions, and I thought it would be helpful for her to understand the perspective from a Republican who comes from a state that is seeing impacts."


U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has taken a dim view of the Paris climate deal, was also scheduled to attend last week’s meeting.

Murkowski said she did not know why Pruitt was included, although she noted that she recently met with him separately to discuss Alaska issues.

Murkowski is not the only Republican to weigh in on the Paris deal. Some House GOP moderates appealed to Trump last month not to jettison the agreement (E&E News PM, April 26). The Republican governors of Vermont and Massachusetts issued a similar plea to Energy Secretary Rick Perry yesterday.

Speaking at an event sponsored by the American Council for Capital Formation, Murkowski said she was "agnostic" about whether the United States should remain or withdraw from the Paris deal.

"I think what we need to do is look at that and say, ‘Where can we be most useful?’" she said yesterday. "Where do we have the most leverage? And of late I’ve been coming down on the side of you have more leverage if you stay in. Now whether the administration agrees with that remains to be seen, but I think that’s how we should view it."

In her later conversation with E&E News, Murkowski noted that she has never been enthused about the Paris deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

"I’m looking at it from the perspective of a state that is clearly seeing the impact" of climate change, she said. "But I’m also from a state that probably has some of the highest energy costs in the country. And a state that is a producer. So we’ve got a very interesting place in this discussion."

Murkowski’s remarks reflect her long and complicated relationship with climate change. She has consistently expressed concern about the issue throughout her Senate career and remains one of the few Republican lawmakers who will bring up climate change unprompted. Yet her policy prescriptions have evolved over time.

In 2007, she and her political mentor, former Alaskan GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, joined a small group of moderates in co-sponsoring a cap-and-trade bill that contained less stringent emission targets than competing measures floating around Capitol Hill.

Her support came after the bill sponsors added a controversial "safety valve" provision that would have imposed limits on the price of carbon credits under the emissions trading system included in the bill.

Murkowski later disavowed her earlier support for cap and trade as an effort to steer the conversation to a middle ground. In 2010, she led an unsuccessful Senate push to nullify EPA’s endangerment finding on greenhouse gases through the Congressional Review Act.

In doing so, she argued the disapproval resolution was driven by a desire to avoid "unprecedented overreach" by EPA, and not doubts over the science of warming.

Throughout the Obama administration, she frequently criticized EPA’s policies, although she was supportive of renewables and efficiency research at DOE led by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The bipartisan energy bill she assembled in the last Congress with ENR ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), which the pair plans to revive, also contained numerous provisions intended to boost renewables and efficiency.

Murkowski said yesterday that she initially saw the Paris deal as "disadvantageous" for her oil- and gas-producing state but said she also wants to "make a difference" on climate change.

"I believe it will be through the advances that we make through innovation and technology that allow us to address it," Murkowski said. "We’re already seeing that."

Murkowski touted the importance of having a "strong enough economy" to bring new technologies to market, while noting her state’s reputation as a laboratory for energy innovation (Greenwire, Sept. 9, 2016).

"We have some of the answers in Alaska," she said.

During yesterday’s event, Murkowski said it was "significant" that the Trump administration last week signed on to the so-called Fairbanks Declaration that acknowledged the Paris deal (Climatewire, May 12).

"I do think you’re going to see some brighter lights out of the administration in terms of where they see the focus on climate initiatives," she said. "In the meantime, you have business and industry working to be more responsible when it comes to their own emissions."