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We need to get energy bill right

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What a difference a year makes. Remember 2008, when the Republican standard-bearer, Arizona Sen. John McCain, was a strong supporter of the same type of climate-change policies Congress is considering today?

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Welcome to 2009, when the Grand Opposition Party's "Dr. No" approach of rejecting everything and anything means that we already know Republicans won't be on board when Congress takes up energy reform. What a shame, and please don't tell me that Democrats opposed George Bush's plans to make our nation more energy independent. Many Democrats in the 110th Congress mustered the courage it took to vote for the energy bill signed by President Bush.

After health care, energy is the most important domestic issue our nation will face. It's critical that we get it right. Our security -- economic, national and environmental -- depends on it, not to mention the kind of world we will leave our kids and grandkids.

The time is right today for Democrats, Independents like Connecticut's Sen. Joe Lieberman, and, yes, a few courageous Republicans to finally lay the groundwork for a clean-energy economy.

Today's unprecedented economic challenges urgently require us to create new jobs. New clean-energy and climate policies will create 1.7 million jobs by some estimates. And these aren't just jobs for egghead MIT graduates. They're good-paying manufacturing and construction jobs for working people installing wind turbines, retrofitting buildings and building fuel-efficient cars. American workers will be using American energy that can't be shipped overseas, which means neither can their jobs.

Our dependence on foreign oil is a national security threat that costs us hundreds of billions every year. Rather than send billions of U.S. dollars overseas, new 21st-century clean-energy and climate policies means those billions will be spent here at home to develop clean-energy sources, build new industries and help ensure our national security. New estimates show that under these policies, we can reduce oil imports by 5 million barrels per day, saving $2 trillion over the next four decades that would otherwise be sent overseas to pay for foreign oil from countries that don't have our best interests at heart.

Most important, the world's leading economies and companies are engaged in a global race to develop 21st century energy technologies. This is a race America must win. As President Barack Obama noted, "The nation that leads in the creation of a clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century's global economy."

Today, we're trailing in that race, while other countries are sharpening their competitive edge with new clean-energy policies and reaping the benefits. GM chose a Korean company to begin supplying the battery cells for the new electric Chevrolet Volt vehicle. China, which leads the world in solar panel manufacturing, has adopted the most aggressive energy-efficiency program in the world. Meanwhile, only one of the world's top 10 wind-turbine makers is an American company.

This is about putting America out front again. With bold new ideas and the courage to implement them, we can unlock uniquely American ingenuity, innovation and hard work. Many American businesses understand the stakes, which is why an unprecedented coalition of companies, from General Electric to DuPont to Duke Energy to Siemens, strongly supports doing what it takes to compete and win in the global marketplace.

No one pretends there won't be short-term costs. But those costs will be modest -- less than a postage stamp per household per day, according to two reports by the independent Congressional Budget Office.

The politics of action for clean energy and climate action are solid. There's a broad coalition -- conservationists, labor, businesses both big and small and faith leaders -- that supports action. Indeed, recent polling shows that a majority of Americans, including self-identified Republicans, strongly support moving to clean energy and addressing climate change now.

One new poll found that three conservative Democratic House districts favor the bill by 15 points or more. It's no wonder why popular Republican governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida (when he wasn't running in a Republican primary) strongly supported clean energy. It's popular. It will create jobs. And it's the right thing to do.

Senate Democrats would be smart to give clean energy and climate change top billing this fall. It not only confronts our economic, security and environmental challenges, but it will fundamentally restore American competitiveness in the world and show that they're sticking up for American workers. That's a fight worth having.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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