Last year, the Senate stiff-armed every important clean energy idea that crossed its path. Cap and trade. Oil drilling reform. Even a clean energy bank. This was more than a one-year or one Congress set back. It has created a growing perception that energy reform is legislative poison.

With fewer clean energy advocates in the Senate and a Republican-controlled House, prospects for reform would appear even dimmer for 2011. But with energy use increasing, new power plants being put on the drawing board and China aggressively pursuing clean energy and its $2 trillion payday, the United States cannot sit on the sidelines another two years.

There is a way to get energy reform back on the right path. Conveniently, it also helps overcome market failures in the United States that are restraining the deployment of clean energy, including solar, wind, waste-to-energy and nuclear power: a Clean Energy Standard (CES).

This could reduce pollution, provide utilities the certainty they need to build new wind, solar and, in some circumstances, nuclear power, and create new jobs. As important, it would create a disincentive to build new coal plants. This idea has growing bipartisan support in parts of the country, the South and Midwest, which have shown the most opposition to previous proposal.

A CES that does not pre-empt tougher existing state energy standards helps encourage clean energy in every region of the country without creating a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex problem. It avoids picking technological winners and losers. It also can get results. An analysis by Resources for the Future determined that a CES could actually achieve most of the carbon emissions reductions of a Renewable Energy Standard, but at just 68 percent of the cost.

That’s why Energy Secretary Stephen Chu voiced support for a CES at a Third Way event on the future of nuclear power in December. It’s why we are coming out in favor of the idea today.

This is important for clean energy advocates and climate hawks not just because there will be more renewable generation and less pollution in the air. It shows that we can get votes and win policy victories. That is what gets noticed in Washington, DC and in state capitals around the country. Policy successes, even smaller national ones, are replicated and expanded. As important, a CES victory would help push back against efforts by opponents of clean energy and climate to marginalize reform.

Is it perfect? No.

Will it single-handedly spur the transition from conventional fuels to clean energy? Of course not.

A CES, however, will make a real difference in encouraging utilities to build more renewable and other clean power. It will help the US compete in the enormous global clean energy market. It will reduce pollution. It’s a win for the sector, the environment and the country. That more than anything is what we need.