The Murkowski Energy Plan Takes the 'Renewable' Out of the RFS

By Erin Voegele | February 07, 2013

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has long been known as a strong supporter of fossil fuels in general, and oil in particular. She is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. This week she released an energy blueprint, that illustrates a variety of changes she would like to see made to the U.S. energy landscape.

Unsurprisingly, her proposal would gut the renewable fuel standard (RFS). While many in the oil industry have called for an outright repeal of the program, Murkowski’s plan would “reform” the RFS to provide more equitable treatment of feedstocks. The proposal, however, is not necessarily addressing equitable treatment for biomass feedstocks. It actually aims to allow transportation fuels made from natural gas and coal to qualify, which would essentially negate the “renewable” in the RFS.

The proposal encourages the development to legislation to redefine the term “clean energy” to mean energy that is “less intensive in global lifecycle impacts on human health and the environment than its likeliest alternative.” In explanation, the proposal says that “too often, ‘clean’ is treated as an absolute, but it is better regarded as a comparison.” It is unclear to me exactly what this definition could be interpreted to mean. Obviously renewable energy sources should qualify as “cleaner” than fossil fuels. However, would this type of definition somehow allow oil from some deposits to be classified as “clean” because it is cleaner than oil extracted from others?

To be fair, not everything in the proposal would be negative for the biomass industry. It does call for expanding biomass cofiring at coal-fired power plants, and encourages that drop-in replacement fuels receive a larger share of federal biofuel research and development support.

However, the proposal is overwhelmingly gives preference to the fossil fuel industry. It encourages additional off-shore drilling, new drilling techniques that have made oil deposits, such as those in the Bakken Shale formation, more economic, and other measures to increase fossil fuel production.  

I encourage our readers to take a close look at the proposal, and contact both Murkowski and your state’s representatives to tell them which elements of the plan would work for your business, and which elements would endanger your industry. The proposal is available for download here.