While too much of the media has focused on first-quarter fundraising battles and the sniping between the Obama and Clinton camps, presidential candidate John Edwards took the opportunity to lay out a bold energy plan that addresses some of the great challenges of our time.

As he said in a speech in Iowa, “Our generation must be the one that says, ‘we must halt global warming.’ Our generation must be the one that says ‘yes’ to renewable fuels and ends forever our dependence on foreign oil. And our generation must be the one that builds the new energy economy. It won’t be easy, but it is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.”

Some key aspects of the Edwards Energy Plan include a cap on greenhouse pollution in 2010 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 – consistent with the dictates of the latest climate science. He would use an economy-wide, cap-and-trade system and sell a portion of the pollution permits to raise $10 billion a year for a New Energy Economy Fund. The Fund would be used to pursue clean, renewable, and efficient energy technologies and create 1 million jobs in the process – along the lines of what the Apollo Alliance has outlined. One billion dollars a year from would go towards helping US automakers meet higher fuel economy requirements and utilize the latest technologies, including biofuels, hybrid and electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, and ultra-light materials. Finally, Edwards’ plan calls for opening the electricity grid so that small-scale renewable electric generation – by farms, factories, schools, and communities – can compete with large, central power plants. (This is something Academy Award winner and pre-Scalia President-elect, Al Gore, touted in hearings on Capitol Hill today. Great to see Gore pushing the Presidential debate without even being a part of the race).

Edwards might be winning the early frontrunner race when it comes to substance over flash – he has been clear and strong on health care, labor rights and now energy. (And so far, among the frontrunners, Edwards and Obama have been clearest about a plan for ending the War in Iraq – though neither of them matches the clarity and courage of Dennis Kucinich, a presidential candidate who should receive more attention from the blogosphere since it isn’t coming from the conventional media.)

With the science of global warming now settled for just about everyone who isn’t named Sen. James Inhofe, and the costs of a status quo energy policy perfectly clear, speaking out boldly on how to address these challenges should be a prerequisite for any presidential candidate. Good to see John Edwards doing the right thing here.