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"All of the Above" Can't Deliver All the Benefits the Clean Energy Economy Can

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In a time of soaring gas prices and record-breaking temperatures, Americans are looking for energy solutions that save money, reduce dangerous pollution and strengthen our country.

Yet instead of offering targeted policies, many leaders are suggesting an "all of the above" approach to energy development. The idea is that we should throw everything we have at the problem and see what sticks. It's a misguided strategy that would do more harm than good.

When Republicans in Congress say "all of the above," they mean oil, gas and coal, while clean energy gets only an occasional mention. When President Obama uses the phrase, he emphasizes clean energy, but he also wants to expand oil and gas drilling. Both these formulations amount to a kitchen-sink method of producing energy.

It's the equivalent of walking into a restaurant and ordering everything on the menu. Most people don't do that in real life, because we know it costs too much and will make us sick. Instead, we select the best food for the best price.

We can do the same with energy. We can choose the best and bypass the rest.

The best energy solutions deliver multiple benefits at once. Sinking oil and gas wells in communities across the nation may produce more energy, but more energy isn't all America needs. We also need to create good-paying jobs that stay in the United States. We need to retain our technological advantage in the global energy market. We need to protect the health of our families, our air and our water.

Only one kind of solution can deliver all those benefits: clean energy. Wind power accounts for 35 percent of new power built in the United States, and it produces zero pollution. The solar industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, and its engineers are pioneering the next generation of clean technology.

Better performing cars are protecting Americans from gas price spikes and fighting climate change at the same time. President Obama recently raised fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Within 20 years, those standards will save drivers more than $80 billion a year at the pump and cut our oil use by more than we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010. Manufacturing cleaner cars is already employing more than 150,000 Americans right now.

Drilling for more oil and gas can't achieve these successes. It can't even lower the price we pay at the pump. The Associated Press did a statistic analysis of 36 years of gas prices and oil production and found there is no correlation between "how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump." Yet our dependence on dirty oil and gas has been proven to contribute to asthma, heart attacks, and cancer and to cause climate change.

Fossil fuels will continue to play a role in our society, but considering all the negative tradeoffs that come with them, lawmakers should call for more safeguards. If our leaders want to see more natural gas development, then they should support strong air pollution standards for gas production. If they want to continue to rely on coal-fired power, they should support the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new power plants that the Environmental Protection Agency will announce soon. Smart safeguards are the only way we can protect our families from the hazards of fossil fuels.

Not all energy options are created equal. That's why we must focus on the technologies that create the best outcomes for our communities.

People want a forward-looking energy policy. They want cars that go farther on a gallon of gas. They want their children to breathe cleaner air. They want utility bills that don't cause sticker shock. And they want America to lead the world in technological breakthroughs.

"All of the above" doesn't deliver those benefits. Doing the best and skipping the rest will.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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