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Agreeing on energy choices

Outside Washington, the nation knows that together, we must do something.

By Lisa P. Jackson

Our nation's clean-energy future has been one of the most debated issues in Washington in recent months. As Congress works to pass a landmark energy and climate bill, the conversation has often fallen into a familiar pattern of right against left, and Democrats against Republicans - partisan divides that threaten to hold back necessary change.

But when I travel beyond the environs of Washington, I hear a different discussion.

People across the nation ask me about clean-energy jobs in their communities. They want to know how we can cut pollution. They are concerned that the changing climate means they won't be able to vacation on the same beaches in the years ahead, and they are eager to know if the factories in their cities can be saved by manufacturing wind turbines or solar panels. I meet Democrats and Republicans who agree that our dependence on foreign oil jeopardizes our economy and security.

These are issues that unite us as a nation - and have for years. It was Republican President Richard Nixon who formed the Environmental Protection Agency. And President George H.W. Bush based his energy policy on "reducing our dependence on foreign oil, protecting our environment, and promoting economic growth."

Today, there is still broad, bipartisan support for getting America running on clean energy. People are eager for Washington to break the old pattern and help them confront the economic, environmental, and security challenges we face - not as political parties, but as a nation.

Sparking a nationwide transition to clean energy can create millions of well-paying jobs that can't be shipped overseas, which will help rebuild the economy in every state. There is no red-state/blue-state divide when it comes to green jobs. A recent University of Massachusetts study showed that clean-energy investments would create the highest concentrations of jobs in traditionally Republican states, such as Kansas, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Clean energy can also cut dangerous pollution in our communities. It can bring relief to the millions of American children with asthma and cut smog levels that double the risk of premature births. It can reduce the prevalence of cancer and other diseases linked to pollution from burning fossil fuels. That will improve overall health and lower the amount we spend on health care each year - another goal we all can support.

Clean energy is also the key to turning the tide on climate change. Our nation is already suffering through historic droughts, more destructive hurricanes, and agricultural pests and infectious diseases spreading into new areas. Further changes in the climate pose real threats to our coastlines, family farmers, and the environment.

Finally, with home-grown energy sources, we can stop sending billions of dollars overseas and help stabilize our economy at home. Over the first half of this year, the price of a barrel of oil has nearly doubled. Those kinds of fluctuations raise the costs for businesses to move products and for drivers to fill up their gas tanks, putting greater stress on the economy.

But this is about more than just oil; it's about global stability as well. Violence over resources, displaced refugee populations, poverty-driven instability, drought, and famine will only worsen as the climate changes and the environment is degraded.

The alternative is to put our ingenuity to work. Clean-energy technologies can create educational and economic opportunities where none existed before, including new markets for American goods.

Clean energy is to this decade what the space race was to the 1950s and '60s, and other nations are seizing the moment, leaving America behind. Germany has surged ahead in solar manufacturing, Japan is leading the world in hybrid cars, and China has stepped up efforts to produce electric vehicles. And when those cars come to market, Korean companies will be well ahead of our own in the development of batteries and fuel cells.

Clean energy needs strong incentives and support if we are to lead the new global economy, and that's what the clean-energy bill before Congress provides. It's up to Democrats and Republicans across the nation to let lawmakers know that we need to confront economic, environmental, and security issues that affect us all. When it comes to clean energy, the American people need to show they aren't concerned about whether we follow Democrats or Republicans, as long as we lead the world.