Last Word: Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In 2016, she received the American Public Power Association's Public Service Award, which recognizes a publicly elected or appointed official at the national or state level whose activities have furthered the objectives of public power.

What are the biggest barriers for improving and expanding the country's energy infrastructure?

The United States is home to some of the most robust and reliable energy infrastructure in the world, but it is almost always an afterthought-until it breaks down. Much of our nation's infrastructure is privately owned and maintained. Building and upgrading it is an expensive and time-consuming process. Hundreds of projects, representing billions of dollars of investment, are currently navigating the federal labyrinth of permitting. Multiple agencies, numerous applications, and duplicative requirements make the permitting process cumbersome and can unnecessarily delay projects for years. The federal process is also layered on top of state and local permitting processes, with little to no apparent coordination, which only adds to the difficulty of "getting to yes" on these important projects.

What steps can be taken legislatively to address energy infrastructure issues?

I strongly support the new administration's decision to make infrastructure a national priority. We are talking about building things, again. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am working with administration officials and my colleagues to develop ideas for a broad infrastructure package. In fact, our committee is already ready to contribute to it. During the development of our bipartisan energy bill last Congress, we sought to address our energy infrastructure challenges. Our bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 85-12, included provisions that could fit seamlessly in an infrastructure package, whether it is streamlining the permitting process for LNG exports, enhancing electricity delivery, or improving the regulatory process for hydropower, natural gas pipeline, and mineral projects.

What additional steps can the federal government take to expand the use of hydropower in the U.S.?

I often say that hydropower is our hardest-working renewable resource, but it rarely gets the credit it deserves. The U.S. has 100 gigawatts of installed capacity that produces emissions-free, baseload power, but we have our work cut out for us on the regulatory side. A third of our nation's hydropower dams will require license renewals by 2030, but relicensing an existing project can cost tens of millions of dollars and take a decade or longer. In our bipartisan energy bill, we sought to enact common sense reforms, such as designating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as the lead agency for purposes of establishing an enforceable agency schedule, and eliminating duplicative or unnecessary studies. During conference, we sought to go even further by expediting approvals for non-powered dams, given that only three percent of the country's dams are actually electrified.

With respect to cybersecurity threats, what steps can the power sector and the federal government take to protect the nation's power grid and other elements of the energy infrastructure?

We have long recognized that our nation's energy sector is a popular target for bad actors. With the enactment of the Energy Policy Act in 2005, and the subsequent certification of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) as the Electric Reliability Organization, the power sector has been working collaboratively with the federal government to protect our grid system from both cybersecurity and physical threats. The industry stakeholder process authorized by that law has led to the formulation of mandatory standards and fostered a robust public-private partnership. And last Congress, via the FAST Act, we codified the Department of Energy's role as the sector-specific agency and provided the Secretary with the authority to address grid-related emergencies. We also included provisions to protect sensitive information from disclosure in order to facilitate information sharing and help close the gaps identified by industry. Given the ever-evolving nature of the cyber threat, the federal government must continue to share actionable information with our private partners, including granting needed security clearances on a timely basis.

Would you say that public power utilities are uniquely positioned to effectively address energy infrastructure issues given their focus on local communities?

Yes, absolutely. Because public power utilities are owned and operated at the local level, they have a special position of trust with their customers and communities. These utilities offer not-for-profit services, thereby keeping electricity affordable for the 49 million people they serve. Like all of our nation's utilities, I know they view the responsibility of keeping the lights on as paramount, which means having safe and reliable infrastructure in place.