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Clean energy jobs bill benefits all Americans

As the Senate debates the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, it's important to remember just how vital this legislation is to our country's clean energy future and the economy.

This bill makes us more energy independent -- creating 1.7 million new jobs by investing in secure, clean energy sources that are made in America and work for America.

As the momentum for a deal on clean energy legislation builds, it's time to work together, but also to bargain hard. Compromise is necessary to get this legislation across the finish line.

Yet while compromise is crucial, we cannot sacrifice our nation's safety and national security at the behest of special interests aiming for giveaways.

A major fight is expected over one of the bill's tools that will hold polluters accountable -- specifically the Environmental Protection Agency's power to use the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution. Clean Air Act authority was established in a Supreme Court decision, but major polluters like Big Coal and Big Oil are trying to weaken or even kill this important effort.

Removing it would exempt them from pollution rules that apply to other global warming contributors, like cars. Weakening the Clean Air Act would undermine the very purpose of the clean energy jobs bill, restricting its efforts to create more jobs, lessen pollution and improve national security.

These polluters and their special interest trade groups are doing all they can to stand in the way of progress. They're spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying for billions in giveaways that would encourage the construction of more dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Senate must fight back against these old polluting industries and tell them it's time to pay their fair share.

To create clean energy jobs while rebuilding our economy and reducing global warming pollution, a final bill must also ensure that we meet robust reduction targets by reducing global warming pollution from old, dirty power plants.

Despite the doom and gloom of groups like the Chamber of Commerce, reducing global warming pollution is more than possible -- it's already happening. Again the "gloomers" try to attribute reductions in global warming pollution solely on the economic downturn, but the truth is that canceled plans for new coal plants, economic stimulus funds for cleaner energy, and standards for more efficient appliances and cars have had a much more significant impact. But all these measures are just nibbling around the edges -- we need a comprehensive approach.

The clean energy bill includes a performance standard for new power plants, but doesn't include a provision to ensure that when existing plants expand they also have to upgrade their pollution controls. In the past, similar bills designed to reduce pollution included loopholes that grandfathered in old plants and let them keep on chugging. This has put us in the situation of using outdated polluting plants instead of newer, cleaner ones.

The Senate must also use this bill to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency standards to create clean energy jobs, drive renewable energy development and improve energy efficiency beyond the status quo.

A strong bill will protect consumers by funding investments in clean energy and clean transportation, rather than rewarding Big Oil and Big Coal. The bill must protect natural resources and vulnerable communities here and around the world -- and not allow expanded offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, one of the last protected coastal regions in the country.

We can't allow polluters to continue their dirty business-as-usual ways. Millions of jobs could be created here if only the U.S. were to invest wisely in clean energy, innovation and efficiency. This bill can build our clean energy economy.

It's time for America to take charge of its environment and make sure that we have less pollution, more jobs and greater security.

Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club.