The Other Woman from Alaska

By Stone, Daniel | Newsweek, July 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Other Woman from Alaska


Stone, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel Stone

Lisa Murkowski may be the Obama administration's only hope of getting a climate-and-energy deal this year.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a different kind of Alaskan politician, the kind who doesn't make headlines. The unglamorous Murkowski is no friend of Sarah Palin. In 2006, Palin unseated Murkowski's father, Frank, from the Alaska governorship, then sided with Murkowski's little-known Tea Party opponent in this year's GOP primary, while labeling the senator "part of the big-government problem in Washington." But Murkowski has the power to get something done on the one issue Alaskans really care about: oil. (Last year, Alaska pumped almost 250 million barrels from the ground and nearby sea, which meant a $1,300 dividend for every state resident.) While Palin may have inspired the chant of "Drill, baby, drill!" it's the obscure Murkowski who stands the best chance of getting the drilling going again after the BP spill.

A White House aide says top officials have been wooing Murkowski, who is the Obama administration's hope--maybe its only hope--of getting a climate-and-energy bill through Congress this year. Well, make that an energy bill. Any legislation is going to be more about extracting and encouraging new energy sources than protecting the environment. That might seem counter-intuitive given that the Gulf of Mexico is suffering one of the biggest environmental disasters ever--brought about by the overzealous pursuit of oil. But after the BP disaster, President Obama wants to show that he is doing something, other than imposing a six-month moratorium on deep offshore drilling. With the threat of another economic downturn, there are a plenty of legislators who want to create jobs in the energy industry, and cheaper and more plentiful energy sources.

For a time, back in the rosy beginnings of the Obama administration and the Democrat--controlled Congress, it looked like meaningful environmental legislation would pass handily. A year ago, the House voted for a cap-and-trade bill that would have cut back on greenhouse gases. But it stalled in the Senate, where Democrats from coal-producing states balked at the cost. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut were hopeful they could work out some kind of compromise that would attract Republicans, but their chief ally, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, backed away.

Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, is not exactly green. She opposes cap-and-trade and has pushed a bill that would stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. But she does acknowledge global warming, and she might back a bill that encourages growth in sustainable energy, as long as there is support for expanded oil and gas drilling as well. (Murkowski has taken $440,000 in donations from Big Oil since 2002, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. …

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