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Opinion: Foot-dragging on energy legislation must stop

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On April 23, a national movement started in Aberdeen by sending one of the wind blades manufactured at Molded Fiber Glass on a journey to voice America's overwhelming support for comprehensive clean energy legislation in Washington, D.C.

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General Electric launched this "Capture the Wind" tour at the MFG plant in Aberdeen. Bands performed. Dignitaries gave sensational speeches. We envisioned a new frontier of wind energy development in South Dakota. We signed the blade, which became a 13-ton, 131-foot long "petition" urging Congress to pass legislation to create millions of new clean energy jobs and to win the clean energy technology race.

The blade journeyed 2,436 miles to the American Wind Energy Association conference in Dallas.

Along the route, people signed it. Former Senate Leader Tom Daschle signed it in Washington, D.C., and in Dallas, former President George W. Bush urged AWEA delegates to unite behind a prosperous clean energy economy. We felt excitement building from Aberdeen to Dallas. And then, on July 22, it halted.

I was with other South Dakotans in Washington, D.C., to encourage our senators to support comprehensive clean energy legislation because it would boost our economy, end America's addiction to foreign oil and solve the climate crisis. My objective was to promote wind energy and jobs.

The legislation would enable construction of transmission lines and allow rapid development of wind energy in South Dakota. Without transmission lines, South Dakota's wind industry will stop expanding within three years.

After our visits, we learned Senate Leader Harry Reid had scuttled the bill. We were surprised there weren't 60 senators willing to reform how our nation creates and uses energy. More disturbing were the later Senate's failures to address the Gulf oil spill or take smaller steps toward energy independence.

Big Oil and coal lobbyists won. But this issue isn't going away.

This summer, global warming displaced 20 million flooded Pakistanis, produced extreme heat and uncontrollable fires in Russia, and set records for intense heat waves throughout our nation. We've seen 7- and 8-inch single rainfalls in South Dakota and relentless flooding along the James River between Mitchell and Aberdeen. To some experts, the calamities of climate change are advancing quicker than anticipated.

South Dakota's opportunity to gain tremendous wealth as America's greatest clean energy production state is at risk. Every wind farm planned for another state with transmission capabilities will be one more wind farm that won't be located in South Dakota.

In Aberdeen as well as in Mitchell, we've worked hard to support the wind industry and to enrich our region's economy. Right now, leaders are hoping and planning to build 1,000-megawatt to 5,000-megawatt wind farms on both sides of the Missouri River. Polling still shows the vast majority of Americans want the clean energy revolution to start now. There's just one hang-up -- clear leadership from Washington to start the transition to a clean energy.

The foot-dragging in Washington needs to stop. South Dakota's greatest economic opportunities now hang in the balance.

Jennifer Slaight-Hansen is a marketing director for a small business and also a member of the Aberdeen City Council.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301, or e-mailed to letters@mitchellrepublic.com. Not all submitted material will be used.

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