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U.S. President Barack Obama holds up a t-shirt given to him by Mechanical Engineering Professor Alex Slocum (L) as Susan Hockfield, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), takes him on a tour of the institution's research labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 23, 2009.JASON REED

Clean coal, safe nuclear and wind power all have a role in weaning the United States off its risky reliance on foreign - and filthy - oil, President Barack Obama said Friday, saying America must finish first in the global race to dominate new energy technologies.

"The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy," Mr. Obama said in speech in Boston, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The president is launching a major push to back controversial legislation that would commit the United States to drastic cuts in carbon emissions, something his administration needs if it is to be credible at the forthcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change.

He called for the United States to be "energy independent," noting "the Pentagon has declared our dependence on fossil fuels a security threat."

Most Americas think of oil imports from Arab nations in the Middle East as risky and unreliable and political promises to end reliance on foreign oil usually mean the same. However, it is Canada that is the largest overall provider of energy to the United States, as well as being the largest single national exporter of electricity, natural gas and oil.

Canadian oil sands are targeted by environmentalists as being the dirtiest - in terms of carbon emissions - of American's energy imports.

Transforming the U.S. economy from one "that's importing oil to one that's exporting clean-energy technology," won't be easy said Mr. Obama but it must be done. "We will lead the world to prevent the worst consequences of climate change," he added.

"Everybody in America should have a stake in legislation that can transform our energy system into one that's far more efficient, far cleaner, and provides energy independence for America," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama has made revamping America's energy system a central theme of his presidency but he faces tough opposition from some industrial and power-generating groups who fear the proposed "cap and trade" legislation aimed at cutting carbon emissions and promoting clean energy sources will handcuff the U.S. economy and drive jobs overseas.

The president dismissed opponents as "naysayers" who are being marginalized. "There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy, when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating million of new jobs," he said.

Next week, the U.S. Senate will begin crucial hearings on the climate change and energy legislation. There is stubborn and powerful opposition - across party lines - from legislators especially in coal-producing and hard-hit industrial states.

If efforts to cap carbon output seem to be failing in Congress, the Obama administration will face even greater challenge as it attempts to seize a leadership role in Copenhagen in seven weeks. More than 150 nations will gather to hammer out a new international pact to cut greenhouse gases and thus limit the looming damage from global warming.

Already some leading international environmentalists are questioning whether Mr. Obama can deliver on his sweeping campaign promises.

"The Copenhagen meeting will fail, unless America changes," Sunita Narain, director of the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment said before protests scheduled in scores of cities around the globe Saturday.

"From what America is proposing nationally it is clear that it plans to do very little. … Let us see if the man who was elected to bring change in the world's biggest polluting country will do anything different," she told The Washington Post