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Barack Obama's bold plan to achieve energy independence for the United States is, as he readily acknowledges, a compilation of ideas and programs that have been on the drawing board for years.

Unfortunately, these visionary concepts have been ignored by a Bush White House that would rather fiddle while the planet burns.

Rapidly weaning the millions of mindless Americans who drive gas-guzzling SUVs from their dependence on carbon fuels is the only way to save the world from the coming catastrophes of widespread droughts, floods and hurricanes that loom just beyond the horizon.

The plain-speaking Illinois senator simply wants our nation to set a good example for the rest of the world and embrace the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol by capping carbon emissions and supporting the sale of carbon credits.

Profits from the sale of such credits would be invested in clean energy technologies that would help pry the United States from its addiction to oil. That is not only doable in the next 20 years but already in motion in industrialized nations of Europe as well as Japan.

Obama's proposed Senate legislation, the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2007, would prod the United States toward energy independence by increasing production and use of renewable fuels such as biodiesel and corn and cellulosic ethanol.

The bill puts the full force of the federal government behind renewable fuel use by creating National Low Carbon Fuel Standards that would mandate 10 percent less carbon in all fuel sold in the United States by the year 2020.

To achieve that goal, Obama's plan would cut carbon in fuels by 5 percent no later than 2015.

In a way, Obama's plan reflects a bipartisan cooperation that this country sorely needs.

California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, this year signed an order that requires a similar 10 percent carbon-emission reduction by 2020. Obama is simply calling for the federal government to adopt the California standard, thus achieving a national 200 million ton cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Obama's plan to raise federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards by 4 percent - or about one mile per gallon per year for 20 years - would also cut gasoline consumption by 549 billion gallons and greenhouse gas emissions by 583 million tons.

Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate to urge Americans to commit themselves to independence from oil by turning to renewable energy resources - a move that took great courage because it involves personal financial sacrifice by everyone.

His leadership on this front now has prompted all of his Democratic rivals to begin talking about curbing the use of greenhouse gas producing fuels.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and the other five candidates suddenly are advancing energy and environmental plans of their own.

All sense the larger-than-life presence of former Vice President Al Gore - the undisputed owner of the "greener than green" political turf - and a man many Democrats believe could be nominated by acclamation if he chose to run.

Although it's a good beginning, Obama's plan for increasing fuel efficiency and cutting carbon emissions could still be a dollar late and day short.

Rising sea levels from polar ice meltdown are already affecting low-lying parts of the planet with nine atolls of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu already seeing sea water wash off their roads and coconut groves. Low-lying islands in the populous Ganges Delta of Bangladesh have similarly disappeared.

Not only is Obama's energy and environmental plan realistic, it is imperative - and may well need to be expanded. If Gore ultimately decides not to pursue the presidency, the junior senator from Illinois would be a suitable stand-in for most environmentalists.

Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer for the Online Journal. This commentary was distributed by McClatchy Newspapers.


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