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Shift to Renewables Long Overdue

We all know there is neither one cause to blame for gas prices that set record highs every week, nor one silver bullet that will solve our energy crisis. But there are steps we can take right now to help ease the burden of this crisis for American families. For example:

• We must pressure oil companies to drill for oil on the 68 million acres they already lease both onshore and offshore — and ensure that any oil found on those sites stays in the United States.

• The president should begin releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as his father did in 1991 to help bring prices down.

• We must work to bring accountability to the energy futures market by preventing Wall Street traders from gaming the oil market and ensuring that American consumers are paying a fair price at the pump.

But Democrats also know that our energy crisis requires long-term solutions. Republicans like to believe the answer to our energy crisis lies in simple supply and demand. Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t add up. America has less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but Americans consume a quarter of the world’s oil. It doesn’t take an economist to recognize that our addiction to oil is undeniably unsustainable.

We are long overdue for a dramatic change from tired, failed policies that have sent gas prices skyrocketing — we simply must get serious about investing in the clean, renewable fuels.

The most abundant and cleanest form of energy on Earth is renewable energy. The sun, wind, water, biomass and the energy beneath our feet can provide America with more than enough power to fuel every home, business and vehicle in the country today.

This is why it is baffling to me that President Bush and many in his party ignore the most obvious and responsible approach to solving our nation’s energy crisis. Why are Republicans treating renewable energy like a political football instead of as the best way to resolve some of our most important challenges?

Renewables have such enormous potential that even T. Boone Pickens, one of the nation’s most well-known oil men, is building the world’s largest wind farm in Texas because he knows our reliance on oil is a dead end. And he recognizes the benefits of cleaner and renewable fuels that can run electric and advanced vehicles.

I share his enthusiasm. What Saudi Arabia is to oil, my state of Nevada is to renewable energy — but without the limits on our resources, political turmoil or environmental risks.

Solar power in the Southwest alone could generate seven times America’s current electricity capacity. Using our nation’s immense geothermal energy potential, America could be powered emissions-free for the next 2,600 years. And these estimates will only grow as efficiency and technology improve.

At a time when employers have cut jobs every single month this year, we cannot overlook the promise of renewable energy to establish a new domestic industry, creating millions of good-paying jobs. If just 20 percent of the nation’s power came from renewable energy by 2020, we would create at least 185,000 new jobs, and many more indirectly. At the same time, we would save consumers $10.5 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills.

The challenge before us is not feasibility. America is blessed with bountiful natural resources.

The challenge is the will to answer the call. Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the party of yesterday seem to think that fossil fuels are still the future. Theirs is the same resistance to change that has sent our economy into free fall and is endangering our environment with the terrible risks of global warming.

Democrats are dedicated to both long- and short-term solutions to our energy crisis. We know we must use our existing resources more efficiently and invest more in new, cleaner ones. And instead of a White House that lets energy companies write our energy policy, instead of Republicans more concerned with protecting oil companies than their constituents, we need leadership ready to move us quickly toward a safer and more affordable energy future.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the Majority Leader.

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