clean energy

A Republican senator on climate change: It's real, we need to fight it

April 23, 2013: 9:23 AM ET

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski on climate change, the Keystone pipeline, and how technology can make us energy independent.

By Brian Dumaine, senior editor-at-large

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

FORTUNE -- Lisa Murkowski is one Republican senator who wants to do something about climate change. Catching up with her after she gave the keynote at the Bloomberg New Energy conference in New York City on her new Energy 20/20 plan, Fortune's Brian Dumaine discussed with this third-generation Alaskan how America could become energy independent, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the need for more federal clean-tech R&D, and why the Keystone XL pipeline should be given a green light.

On America becoming energy independent:

"As I argue in my Energy 20/20, report, that oil scarcity is a myth and that the U.S. can become energy independent if we pursue all forms of energy. We still have billions of barrels in Alaska that sit untapped. There are abundant reserves offshore in the lower 48." Murkoski is also a supporter of coal but thinks that we need the technology to create coal that is truly clean and "not just PR hype." She also supporters solar, wind, and other renewables but believes that the time has come to start phasing out subsidies for these technologies.

On climate change:

Unlike many of her Republican colleagues in the Senate, Murkowski believes that climate change is real. She adds: "It doesn't make sense to argue about how much global warming is caused by man -- whether it's 5% or 50%. The best approach is to have a no-regrets policy." To combat climate change, she argues that the nation needs to pursue all forms of energy but to move more toward cleaner and cleaner fuels as time progresses. "We owe it to ourselves to keep healthy this marvelous world we've been given."

On the need for clean-tech R&D:

The Senator stresses that technology will help us solve our energy problems. "All that natural gas was just sitting deep underground until we figured out fracking technology. Now look at all the jobs it's creating including places like the Dakotas." While opposed to the government funding the next "Solyndra" Murkowski believes the federal government has an important role in supporting basic R&D. "A lot of the basic research that helped us figure out fracking," she argues, "came from the federal government."

Her plan: open up new areas for oil and gas drilling such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska and offshore in the mid-Atlantic states. The federal government, she says, could direct part of the royalties from all that new production to fund federal clean-tech R&D whether it's solar, batteries or wave power. How much could be raised? "Billions," she says.

On the Keystone pipeline:

The controversial proposed pipeline would bring millions and millions of barrels of oil from Canada's oil sand fields to refineries in the southern U.S. Environmentalists worry about oil sands, which generate more greenhouse than regular crude, and also about pipeline spills in sensitive areas. Murkowski says that "the Canadians have been working hard to make oil sands less carbon intensive, and that the project will create many well-paying American jobs." Will it get built? "I go back and forth on this every day but in the end I think it will," she says. "But if Obama approves it, he may have to block some other project like ANWR to please his supporters in the environmental movement."

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