Energy policy critical for Pa.

The state is a leader in clean energy. We need a president who supports our mission.

The presidential candidates' energy proposals couldn't be more different, and Pennsylvanians should be especially concerned about how this particular debate turns out.

Democrat Barack Obama has a plan to invest in clean, homegrown, renewable power that would create 5 million "green-collar" jobs, improve national security, and decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

Republican John McCain wants to follow the current administration's lead, embracing the policies that put us in this energy crisis in the first place.

Over the last few years, our commonwealth has established itself as a leader in the development and deployment of clean energy sources, drawing more than $2.8 billion in private investment and creating 3,000 green-collar jobs in rapidly growing industries, such as wind- and solar-power development, biofuels manufacturing, clean coal, and supporting sectors.

The potential for growth is tremendous - but only if we get a real energy strategy that puts to work the resources we have in abundance.

First: American ingenuity. We are the most productive, inventive workforce in the world. We can dial down energy waste while we dial up performance and efficiency.

But McCain has fought vigorously against increasing fuel-economy standards to 40 miles per gallon. If he had not helped to thwart stricter standards, Americans would be saving more than $7 billion on gasoline this year, and we would be using about two billion less gallons.

Twice in the last year, McCain joined President Bush in opposing legislation that included $3,000 in tax rebates for purchasers of plug-in hybrid vehicles or fully electric vehicles. Pennsylvania can't afford to wait for McCain to switch gears.

Through its Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants, which Gov. Rendell's administration expanded during my tenure as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, the state has provided $17.8 million to 54 projects over the last three years, leveraging $164 million in investments to produce and market homegrown biofuels.

A second abundant resource: free fuel. The sun, wind and underground thermal resources are there for the taking. True, harnessing those resources requires substantial investment.

But the money strengthens the United States, as wind farms, solar arrays and geothermal plants, as well as the infrastructure to deliver the energy, are built. Investments stay here instead of being shipped overseas.

Yet here, too, Bush and Republicans in Congress have pushed back against efforts to encourage the development and exploitation of domestic resources. For years, McCain has been in the camp of the old-guard energy heavyweights, always voting no on the policies and incentives that would encourage homegrown, clean energy. Today, McCain is still pushing for some $4 billion in tax breaks for oil companies.

That does nothing for Pennsylvania, where we have lured clean energy jobs from overseas. Two Spanish-based wind-energy companies, Iberdrola and Gamesa, have set up shop in Southeastern Pennsylvania, creating a total of more than 1,200 jobs. And the fourth-biggest solar plant in the country is being planned for a vacant seven-acre brownfield at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.

Third: cleaner conventional fuels. We can use traditional energy resources such as coal much more cleanly, capturing the pollution that causes global warming.

President Bush talked a good game on this. He held no fewer than four press conferences touting "FutureGen," his plan to build a zero-emissions, coal-fired power plant. Pennsylvania supported the president's effort, with Rendell joining other coal-state governors to encourage it.

But, just as FutureGen was ready to launch in earnest, the Bush administration pulled the plug. The promised federal matching dollars suddenly disappeared. That was too bad. Many of our own state universities, companies and utilities lent not only their expertise, but also considerable financial contributions, to the work.

In Pennsylvania, we know that a different strategy works: encouraging homegrown, clean electricity and fuel; investing in solar, wind, clean coal and biofuels; and keeping energy dollars at home.

It's a strategy that puts our people to work, keeps energy affordable, and protects our environment. And it's a strategy that - in substance, not just in sloganeering - truly does put our country first.


E-mail Kathleen McGinty at kmcginty9@gmail.com.