Paving the Way to Our Clean Energy Future

Over my 40 years in public service, including my time as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have seen the evolution of public perception and political will on global warming and energy policy.

We have gone from a public that was averse to change to one eager to take advantage of the untapped possibilities of tomorrow.

We know that we cannot squander opportunities to create jobs and grow our economy, just as we cannot afford to lag behind our competitors in a 21st century global economy. We know our potential: In Nevada, critical investments in solar, geothermal and wind energy, as well as energy efficiency, are diversifying our state's economy and have created reliable jobs that can never be outsourced. That story can and should be told across the nation.

And, of course, we know the cost of inaction. The Gulf oil spill was the most recent warning, but other reminders happen every day. Rising energy costs and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil demonstrate our urgent need for a national clean energy strategy. Democrats are firmly committed to achieving this goal.

I had hoped Republicans would be equally committed; it is, after all, their future, too. I had hoped they would join us to see where we could find common ground. Senator John Kerry has worked harder than I've ever seen a senator work to bring them along. But they have decided, en bloc, to block sensible legislation that reduces pollution and lowers carbon emissions. They have chosen short-term political gains over solving our country's long-term energy challenges. They might think that strategy will pay political dividends in November, but down the road we'll all be paying for our inaction.

For long-standing supporters of comprehensive clean energy legislation -- and I include myself in that camp -- this development was undeniably disappointing. But it is not an excuse to sit on our hands. As Majority Leader, I had a tough call to make: either allow Republicans' delaying tactics to stop us from doing anything on energy, or do what we can to create green jobs, address the Gulf oil spill and continue to gather support for a comprehensive clean energy bill. I chose the latter option to ensure that these goals can be accomplished now instead of later.

The plan we introduced does four primary things: First, it ensures that BP pays to clean up its mess. Second, it invests in Home Star, a bipartisan energy efficiency program that lowers consumers' energy costs and create jobs. Third, it protects the environment by investing in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And fourth, it reduces our dependence on oil by making investments in vehicles that run on natural gas.

These provisions deserve bipartisan support but in no way does it replace action on comprehensive clean energy legislation. I know that we still need a comprehensive plan to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, incentivize the use of alternative energy sources and create even more American jobs. Chairman Kerry and others who are tirelessly committed to this effort will continue to pursue a plan that does these things and can overcome the Republican Leadership's determined objections. And we will work with the President and his team to push this over the finish line.

I know some would rather we introduce and force a vote on a comprehensive climate bill today, even if 60 Senators do not yet want to pass it. I understand their position and share their frustration. But we don't have the luxury of wasting the American people's time. An unsuccessful vote might be politically satisfying, but it does nothing to create jobs, hold BP accountable, lessen our dependence on oil, cut energy costs or protect the planet. Our bill, on the other hand, does each of these things.

I am equally committed to passing this bill and to our larger goal of comprehensive energy and climate reform. We can accomplish both. We have to.