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Energy efficiency is good policy, good for economy

Democrats and Republicans agree we need action on our economy, and we need action on our energy policy. We must overcome the political gridlock that has kept solutions to both problems out of reach.

The need for jobs is obvious — too many Americans remain out of work and too many businesses are still struggling. And the need for action on our energy policy is also dire. Our dependence on foreign oil remains a grave security risk, and our outdated energy infrastructure has left American businesses at a disadvantage to their overseas competitors.

When it comes to energy policy, there"s an area rich with job opportunities where Democrats and Republicans agree: We should use less energy.

Efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way to start addressing our energy needs. Through widespread adoption of stronger efficiency standards that rely on commercially available technology, we can reduce energy use while creating jobs at the same time.

True bipartisanship means working together on a plan from the ground up. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and I did just that last year when we introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 1000) to create and implement a national energy-efficiency strategy. Our bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a strong 18-3 bipartisan vote. It proposes initiatives that are effective, affordable and achievable.

Energy efficiency relies on the use of off-the-shelf products like quality building materials and appliances, many of which are made right here in the United States. It"s an easy first step that will make our economy more competitive and our nation more secure while meeting pent-up demand from individuals and businesses alike.

Our broad-based bill has strong backing from the business community and includes a variety of methods for boosting efficiency.

First, it creates immediate jobs for construction trades through support to American manufacturers of quality building materials. Businesses and homeowners alike need experts in heating and cooling systems, window replacement and computer-controlled thermostats. The demand for these building improvements will support the manufacturers of heating systems, windows, computers and thermostats, as well as the experts it takes to install them. It will create more jobs at places like the Sylvania plant in Manchester, N.H.

Second, the bill helps manufacturers save money and stay competitive with overseas producers. Along with targeted financing, our proposal provides technical support and training for producers to improve the efficiency of their supply chains. The measure also establishes a rebate program to encourage the use of more efficient electric motors.

Third, the bill encourages updating national model building codes through incentives to states. While authority for all building codes would remain at the local level, those governments that voluntarily take full advantage of the incentives offered to upgrade their standards will achieve billions of dollars in savings for consumers.

Finally, the bill takes aim at the largest user of energy in our economy: the federal government. We institute the adoption of energy-saving requirements for computers and other office equipment, promote better building standards and implement smart metering technology.

Efficiency saves consumers and businesses money. It keeps our country competitive in an increasingly global economy. It breaks through the political debate over our energy sources. And it will create jobs today.

This effort presents an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation on two of the most hotly debated topics within our country, energy and jobs. I urge leadership of both parties to quickly bring this legislation to the floor for an honest debate.