Lisa Murkowski and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The collision over Alaska drilling, on top of the Keystone pipeline fight, does not bode well for bipartisan progress on energy and climate this year.

"What is coming at my state, and the arrogance with which this administration is treating us, is something that will not stand," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said on Jan. 26, the day after an announcement by the White House that it is proposing to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. Credit: screenshot of Murkowski press conference on ANWR

A few minutes after the Senate's minority Democrats refused on Monday to silence debate and move along legislation approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, took to the floor and vented her frustration.

"I'm just not in a very good mood right now," fumed Murkowski, who as the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee is managing the Keystone bill.

What had her riled up was not the surprising failure of her side to win over enough Democrats to ram it through the Senate this week and on to President Obama, who is expected to veto it.

Rather, it was another hot-button energy issue that she found "so infuriating": the Obama administration's proposal to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, meaning no oil drilling there, as well as other anti-drilling steps the White House may take in Alaska and nearby waters. That, she said, amounted to economic warfare against her state.

"What is coming at my state, and the arrogance with which this administration is treating us, is something that will not stand," she warned.

The collision over Alaska, on top of the Keystone veto threat, and compounded by the refusal of Senate Democrats to get out of the way of the Keystone legislative steamroller does not bode well for bipartisan progress on energy and climate this year.

Murkowski has dealt calmly with the fraught Keystone debate since taking over the gavel of the Energy Committee this month. She repeatedly urged what Senators call "comity," or formal politeness. She maintained this stance even as Democratic opponents of the pipeline worked to turn the Keystone debate into something between a teach-in and a morality play about climate change and other environmental issues, a tactic meant to sharpen the political contrasts between the parties.

Democrats wanted to offer one green amendment after another to the Keystone bill, knowing full well that most would fail. But Republicans, who had talked about a return to "regular order," which means open debate, had run out of patience as the list of amendments grew impossibly long—to more than 150 at last count.

Having briskly tabled several amendments last week, the Republicans were now moving toward a cloture vote, a procedural step toward final passage. They needed 60 votes. To reach that total, several Democrats who favor the pipeline would have to help shut down their own caucus's delaying tactics.

But a handful of pro-pipeline Democrats hewed to the party line, demanding more debate.

Having lost the cloture vote, Murkowski, who began her day with a press conference denouncing the White House's policies on Alaskan oil, would end it in negotiations with her Democratic counterpart, Maria Cantwell of Washington, over which amendments might take up the rest of this week, pending another try at cloture.

Murkowski, having heard enough complaints from Democrats about being shut out—as if they had forgotten the way they operated when they held the majority— could not hide her irritation on the floor.

"We hit our first little bump on the road back to regular order," she said of the Republican attempt to shut down the debate. "That, you know, is the way you gotta roll around here."

She said she would try with Cantwell to find a way to consider more amendments, but still produce a bill—a way that would be "respectful to the process, respectful to members, and dignifies this institution."

"This is not about me being able to wield some muscle because I have the gavel in the Interior Appropriations Committee," she said.

But everyone knows that Murkowski, while certainly her own woman, is heir to a long tradition of Alaskan lawmakers, including her father (her predecessor in the Senate), making determined use of just that kind of muscle.

In the meantime, on Keystone and related issues, the tone of the Senate just shifted to a sharper key, as minority Democrats and their embattled president do not seem any more ready than Republicans to modulate their voices on matters involving energy and the climate.

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email LinkedIn RSS RSS Instagram YouTube