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Pioneer Editorial: Laying the clean energy groundwork

We all want a clean environment and clean, efficient energy production. We also want affordable and abundant energy. Sometimes the two goals may seem in opposition to each other.

Such was the case when initial legislation introduced in Congress sought severe restrictions on industry, which then threatened to pass on horrendous costs to consumers. Stories of renewable energy standards that would double the price of coal, and then likewise boosting the price of electricity to the home.

Farmers are especially concerned with the costs they may incur with legislation now before Congress. Farmers and ranchers should not be put at a competitive disadvantage in foreign trade by the increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs in the bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

A main feature of the bill is a cap and trade system, where carbon emissions would be limited by the government, which would provide allowances or credits to allow major carbon emitters to discharge a set amount of greenhouse gases. Those having difficultly meeting their caps could trade with another whose allowance has not been reached. That the government would regulate the system is a large concern of the private sector, and a concern of what such a system would cost consumers.

The original bill has seen significant compromises to achieve the goal of a cleaner environment without creating great hardship to Americans and American industry. For that reason -- and the promise of continuing compromises -- we give our conditional support to the legislation.

We are encouraged by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's stick-to-itiveness as the U.S. House Agriculture Committee he chairs held intensive hearings in how the clean energy bill will affect agriculture, and how it can be improved. Agriculture and forestry can play an important part in providing offsets for carbon reduction and sequestration projects. In 2005, the Environmental Projection Agency estimated that farm practices and forestry programs could reduce carbon emissions by about 700 million metric tons a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to be at the table for those discussions.

Negotiations have also led to a pledge that the cap-and-trade system permits won't cost companies anything initially to get the program moving, thus avoiding consumer shock on their utility bills.

In fact, all parts of the clean energy bill taken together with conservation methods, the bill should save consumers $3,900 a year in energy savings and energy efficiency.

We all won't be driving electric cars anytime soon, but the American Clean Energy and Security Act will put us on that path by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, establishing a uniform renewable energy standard, providing research for energy conservation and alternative energy technology and reducing carbon emissions.