U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann argued on these pages April 8 against a cap-and-trade policy. But her argument ignored both the real cause of energy price hikes and job loss in America today, while missing the incredible opportunity that exists in passing comprehensive climate-change legislation to create millions of jobs building the clean-energy economy.

We all clearly remember last summer’s skyrocketing energy prices, which were caused by our failure to develop renewable sources of energy as the absolute supply of oil declined. That experience should provide even more incentive to change the way we produce and consume energy in the United States. Since then, our economy has suffered enormous setbacks in the form of financial collapse, increasing unemployment, and bailouts for reckless banks and shortsighted automotive companies.

What we do know for sure is that the status quo is not working, and that passing comprehensive clean-energy and climate-change legislation is a necessary step, and the most effective way, to rapidly put Americans back to work and reduce global-warming emissions while we’re at it.

During this economic crisis, creating good jobs should be our top priority, and creating green jobs is a key solution. Comprehensive clean-energy legislation will do just that with smart regulations like a national renewable-electricity standard. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently showed that a renewable-electricity standard of 25 percent by 2025 would create 297,000 jobs from renewable-energy development, generate $263 billion in new capital investment and result in $64 billion in electricity and natural-gas savings for consumers by 2025. Virtually all of these jobs and investments would come from the private sector.

But that is just part of the picture. Comprehensive clean-energy legislation would reduce U.S. emissions significantly by 2020 — a necessary step to solving global warming. By including cap-and-trade in this legislation, affected companies would be required to pay for their emissions or invest in new technologies to reduce them by becoming more energy-efficient. The well-respected McKinsey consulting firm demonstrated that existing technologies could be deployed in the U.S. economy to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and would largely pay for themselves through the energy savings. To be effective, the cap-and-trade policy must be economywide in structure and include safeguards to allow energy-intensive industries to compete with countries that do not have the same standards. And, this policy must account for regional disparities and provide offsets for the potential of higher energy costs for low- and moderate-income Americans.

Bachmann contends that such a policy would harm American manufacturing. We’ve got news for her: American manufacturing is already suffering, and clean-energy legislation is a shining light of hope in an otherwise pretty gloomy picture. The Blue Green Alliance released a study in 2007, produced by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, showing that, based on a 15 percent national renewable-energy standard, Minnesota stood to gain more than 18,000 manufacturing jobs building wind turbines, solar panels and biomass boilers.

Another recent study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst showed the job-creating opportunities in the green economy. The study found that a significant investment in six solutions to global warming — building retrofits, mass transit and freight rail, wind and solar power, next-generation biofuels, and a new smart-grid transmission system — would create 2 million jobs in two years, 800,000 of which would be in manufacturing and construction.

So the question is this: Do we continue doing things the way we have always done them — the way that has left us in dire straits today? Or do we change the way we do things to move toward energy independence and job creation for America? Do we build a clean-energy economy that puts millions of Americans back to work with the added bonus of reducing global-warming emissions in order to protect our environment for the next generation of Minnesotans? Change is the answer, and passing comprehensive clean-energy and climate-change legislation is the first step.

David Foster is executive director of the Blue Green Alliance, a national organization.