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Originally published October 21, 2009 at 3:21 PM | Page modified October 21, 2009 at 5:31 PM

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Guest columnist

Clean-energy transition promises brighter economic prospects

The U.S. Senate is beginning a debate about comprehensive climate and energy policy. Guest columnists Dean Allen and Maud Daudon say those who argue reform costs will be too great are missing the opportunity of a clean-energy transition and the innovation and prosperity it brings.

Special to the Times

WITH the introduction of the Clean Energy Jobs bill in September, the U.S. Senate began work on repowering America's economy with a comprehensive climate and energy policy. As Washington business leaders involved in building our local clean-energy economy, we're delighted to see the other Washington moving ahead to restore American leadership in the most dynamic sector of the new economy.

We can't restore long-term prosperity with quick fixes and federal cash infusions alone. If we're serious about strong recovery and long-term economic health, we need to get to work building our new energy economy — the most promising new engine for sustainable prosperity.

Our economic competitors are working overtime to seize the lead in this new energy economy. China, for example, is determined to build a dominant position in the solar industry in much the same way that Japan built a dominant auto industry. If Congress fails to move a strong energy and climate bill, America's economy will fossilize while the world speeds ahead toward a more efficient energy system.

The federal government doesn't need to — and shouldn't — pick winners in the new energy economy. But it does need to establish a level playing field and get the incentives right. And it needs to provide a durable, fair, stable policy infrastructure that rewards innovation and offers the certainty needed to encourage private investment.

The Clean Energy Jobs bill introduced in the Senate is a good, strong launch for the debate. It includes many of the key provisions that set the stage for accelerated innovation, investment, and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

By placing declining limits on climate pollution over time, it responds to what the science is telling us about climate disruption, while opening up a fair, technology-neutral competition for solutions. And it will drive creation of millions of good new jobs, many of which cannot be exported because they involve improvements to local infrastructure — buildings, industries and transportation systems that we can make more efficient and competitive.

Our regional economy is living proof that prosperity and environmental protection go hand in hand. And climate change has emerged as a new and urgent challenge not only to ecosystems, but to human and economic systems — our water supplies, our hydropower system, our food production, our health. Smart solutions are much cheaper than unmitigated climate disruption.

Those who suggest that national climate and clean energy policy will set us back economically are missing the boat. The clean-energy transition is likely to be the strongest driver of innovation and prosperity globally for decades to come.

Energy efficiency, in particular, is an economic powerhouse; the Northwest's electricity bill is $1.6 billion per year lower because of the energy efficiency investments we've already made, and there's plenty more savings available.

Renewable and "smart energy" technologies also hold tremendous promise for our region. Renewable power isn't "alternative energy" in the Northwest; hydropower and efficiency are exactly what make our power supplies so affordable now. Federal climate and energy legislation should fairly account for these historic clean-energy investments, and accelerate the development of a diverse portfolio of new renewable resources for the future.

Now, more than ever, our struggling economy needs robust investment in new energy and a serious strategy to reduce the economic drain associated with our excessive dependence on fossil fuels.

We believe strongly in the power of competition and innovation to drive sustainable prosperity. And we also believe that good, fair, clear public policies play a critical role in creating the conditions for economic success and environmental integrity. We will be a stronger nation with much brighter economic prospects when Congress delivers a comprehensive climate and energy bill.

Dean Allen, left, is CEO of McKinstry Co.;

Maud Daudon is president and CEO of Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation.

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