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Finding America's clean energy future

Make no mistake, our grandchildren will have the final say on whether or not we met the challenge of creating a new clean-energy economy, or if we failed -- succumbing to political special interests promoting misinformation for short-term gain. That is why I held off on supporting the American Clean Energy Security Act until it was certain the bill would meet the challenges facing our nation.

The debate over the necessity to develop clean, alternative sources of energy is over. Last summer's $4-a-gallon gasoline demonstrated again, as in 1972-74, how dangerous it is to remain dependent on foreign oil. The scientific community has overwhelmingly supported the premise that greenhouse gases generated by human activity are causing global warming.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to the public health and welfare, making it clear that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate them. The EPA will cap greenhouse gases regardless of what Congress does.

The clean energy bill before the House was surrounded by a maelstrom of misinformation. Opponents claimed that it would cost the average American family $3,000 a year, failing to mention that they were using an outdated figure that did not account for changes that were made to the bill to bring that cost down. The Congressional Budget Office's final analysis put the real cost at $175 per household, per year, by 2020. Energy savings generated by more efficient appliances required by the act which would add up to $4,400 per family by 2030.

Critics also claimed that this bill would harm the economy; not true. In fact, it is fair to say that our nation's economic future depends on our ability to shift to alternative fuels. Creating jobs in wind, solar, clean coal and other new energy industries will generate millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced or shipped overseas. A single wind turbine contains up to 400 tons of steel, along with 8,000 parts including copper wire, gear boxes and electronic controls.

I withheld support for the clean energy bill until a number of refinements were made to ensure that key economic sectors in northeastern Minnesota would not be negatively impacted. Our state is heavily dependent on coal for the production of electricity for lighting and heating our homes, and powering key industries like the taconite industry. Timber producers that use biomass to produce their own power would have been unreasonably disadvantaged in the initial versions of the bill. Allowances were made for these important industries to ensure that Minnesota and the Midwest do not carry an unfair burden.

A new clean energy economy must also make it economically feasible for natural resources industries to embrace new technologies. Setting arbitrary caps without making allowances for unique regional and economic conditions will drive high energy industries such as steel production and manufacturing overseas.

Nineteenth century solutions, like drilling for more oil, are no longer adequate to address the problems we face today. America has a unique opportunity to develop new technologies for new energy producing industries that will operate more cost effectively; this is what America does best.

When my grandchildren are grown, I expect they will look back on this bill as an important first step in dealing with the global problems that threatened our economic future and the livability of our planet. I hope they will say that America looked ahead to meet the challenge of the 21st century.

Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, is a member of the U.S. House and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.