06/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

An Energy Future for Us and the Planet

America is the economic engine that drives the global economy, and it's about time we ran that engine on clean and renewable energy. We have within our power the ability to transform America into nation that wisely and responsibly consumes and produces energy, and provides leadership that enables the world to follow our example.

Most people know the score today: America is addicted to oil, much of which is foreign, and the greenhouse gas emissions we spew into the atmosphere (seven billion tons annually) are warming the planet. We are close to the tipping point where the damage will be cataclysmic and irreversible.

The President has made American energy transformation a top priority, but it will require strong legislation to make it a reality. In the House of Representatives, several committees share jurisdiction over energy, including the Ways and Means Committee where I serve. Recently, I proposed legislation that would reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by the middle of the century and do so without the potential risk from a financial derivatives market usually associated with a cap and trade system. Generally, the object of a "cap and trade" scheme is to turn the right to emit carbon dioxide into a commodity, and then limit (or "cap") these rights, which can be traded like any other commodity.

We need only look at the experience in the European Union's cap and trade system that increased prices for consumers and increased profits for traders and, ironically, polluters. In any economy, price signals drive change in behavior, but in the EU, the price of pollution permits are extremely volatile, creating uncertainty for policy makers, consumers, and investors in renewable technology. With this in mind, my legislation establishes a system of fees and permits set by the Treasury Secretary that reduces pollution over time according to a schedule written into the legislation itself.

As Congress debates various energy proposals let's hope we remember the lessons of history -- in the EU as well as our own market collapses in housing and the financial sector; if not, we risk repeating the mistakes of history and these have been painful and costly indeed.

As Americans, we're proud when we hear people around the world say that America is a beacon of light in the world. I want that light to be powered by renewable energy in the years ahead. This vision is within reach and I hope it does not slip from our grasp.