In the land of filibusters, extended debate and stemwinding oratory, all known sometimes as hot air, they have voted to harness the wind and put it to work for a brighter America.
By voice vote -- a breeze, actually -- the House gave final approval yesterday to the Wind Energy Systems Act of 1980 and wafted it toward the White House for signing.
If congressional estimates are anywhere near accurate, 800 mega-watts of wind-generated electricity can be available by 1988. That is the energy equivalent of about 6 million barrels of oil per year.
This national energy debate, incidentally, is one in which Congress has invested a minimum of its own wind. The Senate earlier this month also passed the measure by voice vote.
Energy companies like it, wind-machine companies like it, environmentalists like it, utilities see promise in it, the Carter administration supports it.
Of course the great Portuguese explorers and the Dutch canal dwellers knew the glories of wind power long before there was a U.S. Congress, and they didn't need a $100 million first-year authorization to make dreams blow true.
But times and needs change, and Congress, in its push to wean the nation from oil, is playing all the angles. Wind, it turns out, is nearer to being cost-effective than some of the glamour technology of solar and photovoltaic power.
With no apologies to composer Bob Dylan, Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.) agreed that the answers to problems of energy-supply really were blowing in the wind.
Mineta, main architect of the bill, said it will become a "cornerstone" of alternative energy supply with an approach geared toward commercialization.
"I'm really elated," he said. "We didn't realize how cost-effective wind could be when we got into this . . . The bill will give a good assessment of where wind can best be used around the country and it sets goals that are not too high."
The legislation is designed to stimulate the use of wind energy to generate electricity and mechanical power, through large and small turbine devices, and reduce dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels.
Grants and loans for researchers and manufacturers of wind energy machines are the guts of the program, which will be administered chiefly by the Department of Energy.
The legislation calls for study and monitoring of wind system prototypes, with the aim of developing a program of such sophistication that the federal government could turn it all over to private industry after eight years.
Although some of the country's largest companies -- Boeing, General Electric and Hamilton Standard, for example -- are moving quickly to perfect large wind energy systems, Congress thinks the future of wind lies on the side of smallness.
House-Senate conferees who worked out the final legislation anticipated that most of the 800 megawatts of electricy foreseen for 1988 would come from small producers harnessing the wind for local, specialized tasks.
The bill also emphasizes that small businesses and manufacturers must be given special consideration and protection in participating in the development program, to avoid creation of a wind cartel.
You probably thought it already existed, spelled C-O-N-G-R-E-S-S.