SmokestackIn order to move away from dirty fossil fuels, we must make polluters pay.For decades, we have talked about the need to reform our nation’s energy policy. Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has included energy reform in his policy agenda, and in virtually every Congress we pass an energy bill.

But since 1974, our oil imports have tripled. Today we rely on fossil fuels to meet 86 percent of our energy needs, and we are one of the largest contributors to global carbon pollution.

Why haven’t past efforts been successful in revolutionizing our nation’s energy system? Because they didn’t go far enough.

Above all, I believe that if we want to move away from dirty fossil fuels, we need to put a price on carbon pollution.

Pricing carbon would unleash market forces that drive American ingenuity toward the development of clean energy technologies. It is by far the most cost-effective policy tool available to transform our energy system. It will create incentives for business and industry to find the lowest-cost solutions to reduce carbon pollution and provide confidence to investors that the clean energy market is here to stay.

Making polluters pay would create jobs, enhance U.S. competitiveness, and strengthen national security.

Studies have shown that investments in clean energy create more jobs per dollar than fossil fuel-based energy projects. By putting a price on carbon and investing in clean energy, we can create up to 1.7 million net new jobs over the next decade — many of which cannot be shipped overseas. From installing insulation to building offshore wind turbines, these are jobs that can exist only on American soil.

Since 2005, global investment in clean energy has exploded, growing 230 percent. The expansion of this industry is clearly a trend that will continue. Unfortunately, America is not keeping up. Last year, 10 G20 countries invested a higher percentage of GDP in clean energy technologies than the U.S. While China, Brazil, and the U.K. invested three times as much as the U.S. in the industry, Spain topped the charts, investing five times as much.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of the market for, and production of, clean energy lies outside of the U.S. Of the top 30 manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines, and advanced batteries in the world, only a handful are American-based. And global accounting firm Ernst & Young recently announced that for the first time, China has overtaken the U.S. as the most attractive market for renewable energy projects.

On top of that, the U.S. imports nearly 60 percent of the oil we use — 70 percent of which comes from outside North America, threatening our national security. We send nearly $1 billion a day overseas every day for foreign oil, and we put our troops in harm’s way to secure this resource across the globe.

The good news is, we can make this right. We have the technology and the ingenuity to compete in this fast-growing industry, and we have it right in my own home state of Delaware.

Over the August recess, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of businesses and university programs in my state leading the way.

Take Air Liquide in Newark, Del. — a research and technology company developing an oxidization process to more efficiently generate power and capture carbon pollution at coal-fired power plants. This technology is also being applied in other manufacturing processes in order to achieve greater energy efficiency and cost savings for businesses.

Or the University of Delaware’s cutting-edge research on clean energy technologies including solar photovoltaic and electric-vehicle technologies, as well as the construction of a wind turbine at their Lewes campus. With its research and on-the-ground projects, the university is creating a critical foundation from which to build the new clean energy economy.

Delaware is also on the verge of constructing one of the first offshore wind farms in the country. Project leaders are working hard to make sure that wind turbines off Delaware’s coast will proudly bear the label “Made in the U.S.A.” But unfortunately, the average wind tower has only 50 percent American-made components.

If we want to ensure that 100 percent of clean energy materials are made in America — for installation by American workers in America — we must make the transition to a clean energy economy a national priority by passing comprehensive energy reform.

The fact that we did not act to pass such meaningful reform in the 111th Congress is one of my most significant disappointments in leaving the United States Senate next month.