Murkowski energy plan would gut the RFS

By Erin Voegele | February 05, 2013

On Feb. 4, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, released an energy blueprint that calls for a wide variety of changes to U.S. energy policy, including drastic changes to the renewable fuel standard (RFS) program.

According to the report, U.S. alternative fuel policies “rely on burdensome mandates, inappropriate restrictions, and erratic subsidization.” In the report, Murkowski also claims that the RFS program “has likely contributed to higher food prices; fraudulent activity that has harmed both those seeking to comply with federal rules and those attempting to commercialize new fuels; and potential and uncertain liabilities for fuel retailers and vehicle manufacturers.”

The plan calls for the “reform” of the RFS to ensure more equitable treatment of feedstocks; both renewable feedstocks like algae oil, and non-renewable feedstocks, such as natural gas and coal-derived products.

The proposal also calls for the repeal of Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The section prevents federal agencies from entering into a contract to procure alternative or synthetic fuels, including those from non-conventional petroleum sources, for mobility-related use, unless the contract specifies that the greenhouse gas emissions of the fuel are less than—or equal to—the equivalent conventional petroleum-based fuel.

In addition, the energy plan advocates for the establishment of metrics to evaluate progress and performance at federal agencies. “Achieving the deployment of cost‐competitive alternative fuels is a good goal to have, but actual measurement of any progress being made by the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and others has proven elusive,” states the report. “Congress should develop and implement milestones against which the effectiveness of federal programs can be judged. Specifically, whether or not alternative fuel prices have reached parity with conventional options by a future date should be monitored.”

Regarding alternative fuels, the proposal also states that the drop-in replacement fuels should receive a larger share of federal biofuel research and development support.

The plan also addresses biomass, and biomass power. The plan encourages the federal government to ensure biomass is part of an “all of the above” energy policy, in part by including biomass in the definition of renewable energy, along with wind, solar and geothermal. Murkowski’s blueprint also calls for the development of a standard definition of biomass across all laws, legislation and tax regulations. In addition, the plan encourages the cofiring of biomass with coal.

With regard to overarching U.S. energy policy, the report calls for increased domestic oil and natural gas production, along with the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Murkowski also calls for reforms to the permitting and review process for energy, natural resources, and infrastructure projects that would reduce uncertainty, delay and excessive litigation.

In addition, she would like federal lawmakers to enact legislation that would 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.” This definition would be implemented across all programs and policies.

A full copy of the proposal, titled “Energy 20/20: A Vision for America’s Energy Future,” can be downloaded from the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources website.