The breathtaking progress that has marked America’s history has been stunningly lacking in America’s approach to energy. Who would have thought that our nation, which led the Allies to victory in the 1940s, and sent a man to the moon in the 1960s, would allow itself in the 2010s to be more dependent on foreign oil than we were forty years before, reliant on electricity generation largely developed sixty years ago, and ignoring the pleas of its brilliant scientific community to address the real dangers of global climate change?

Last week, the U.S. Senate had an exceptional opportunity to address these extraordinary challenges. But the Senate did not move legislation forward that would dramatically cut our oil dependency, even amid the backdrop of the nation’s worst oil disaster. The Senate did not advance legislation that would have put clean energy technology on a level playing field with older forms of energy generation, even as China – a nation once known for making mediocre toys – surpasses us in clean energy production.

In Indiana, the lack of serious energy and climate reform, such as putting an overall limit on national carbon emissions, is hampering an already difficult economic recovery by denying companies and entrepreneurs needed regulatory certainty:

  • Literally billions of dollars of capital is immobilized in our electricity-producing sector. Electricity producers are unsure how to address the 25 fifty year old+ Indiana coal plants that may well need to retire. This is holding up investment, and ultimately, jobs.
  • Indiana’s fledgling renewable energy manufacturing sector is paralyzed in making any major decisions on capacity expansion, without any clear sense of how much of a market will be carved out for renewable energy production in the coming decades.
  • Our promising clean car sector faces growth constraints. Indiana-based electric vehicle component manufacturers – whose ultimate product produces no carbon – would have much larger market opportunities if there was a national cap on carbon emissions.

Despite the lack of serious progress on energy and climate reform to date, there is a pathway to success in the coming weeks. It lies with rebuilding the bipartisan coalition that once existed for climate and energy reform. Senator Richard Lugar is central to the success of this effort. The Senator has the bipartisan relationships and command of energy and climate issues to help re-stitch this coalition. He understands the special challenges facing Indiana in moving away from fossil fuels, and yet he fully grasps the state, national and international benefits of sound climate and energy policy: clean energy jobs, a reduced carbon footprint, and strengthened national security.

It is our great hope that Senator Lugar will re-engage members of his own party in support of a strong energy and climate bill, and that Democrats will reach out to him to create a needed bipartisan bill. If you are troubled by the inaction in Washington on energy reform, channel your concern into reaching out to Senator Lugar and encourage him to help secure the 60 votes needed to pass strong energy and climate legislation that includes a major curb on greenhouse gas emissions, a steady increase in fuel efficiency standards, and an expansion in energy R&D funding.  Leadership, courage, and foresight are desperately needed at this time of unprecedented national challenge. We believe Senator Lugar is very much up to the task.

Jesse Kharbanda is the Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana’s largest environmental policy organization.

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