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New transportation committee chairman wins passage of solar energy bill

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WASHINGTON -- Thirty years ago, Rep. Jim Oberstar testified in favor of his legislation to install solar panels at federal buildings. Now, as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he's got the juice to make it happen -- at least on a small scale.

On Monday, the House approved Oberstar's bill to create a solar energy system at the Energy Department building, with the hope that the project could serve as a model for all federal buildings.

"What better symbol than the Department of Energy itself, to operate on renewable energy?" Oberstar, D-Minn., asked in an interview. "Let's showcase this project. Let's show definitively this works."

Oberstar's new bill directs the General Service Administration to spend $30 million to install solar panels on the south wall of the Energy Department headquarters in Washington.

Oberstar's 1977 bill called for the creation of a "Solar Energy Government Building Program" to install such systems in federal buildings.

"For 30 years, I've been trying to get this thing done. Now I'm the chairman, I can make it happen," he said with a laugh. "I know it's the right thing to do. It's going to happen."

Oberstar said the federal government has a responsibility to take the lead on the issue -- to minimize global warming, increase energy independence and reduce the cost of solar energy.

"It's our contribution," said Oberstar, 72. "This is something so reasonable, so practical, it's not far-out technology."

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