McGovern (Matt, not George) pushes clean-energy billFor Matt McGovern, his campaign for what he terms “clean energy” goes back to a girl growing up in Woonsocket more than 75 years ago. That girl appreciated the glory of a South Dakota sky and its pristine environment and passed that along to her children and grandkids, he said. That girl became better known as Eleanor McGovern, the wife of former Sen. George McGovern and Matt McGovern’s grandmother.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
For Matt McGovern, his campaign for what he terms “clean energy” goes back to a girl growing up in Woonsocket more than 75 years ago.
That girl appreciated the glory of a South Dakota sky and its pristine environment and passed that along to her children and grandkids, he said. That girl became better known as Eleanor McGovern, the wife of former Sen. George McGovern and Matt McGovern’s grandmother.
“That was part of the values she passed along to our mom and everybody else,” McGovern said during an interview at The Daily Republic recently.
He’s made that his crusade now, as he works as state director of Repower South Dakota, a state-level division of the Repower America movement started in part by former vice president Al Gore. McGovern is urging Senate passage of a bill to promote clean energy, conservation and create jobs.
Rick Hauffe, the communications director of Repower South Dakota and former head of the state Democratic Party, accompanied McGovern.
Hauffe said the state can benefit greatly from a change in attitude about energy and conservation. South Dakota can market the wind power that is available in the state.
Right now, 10 percent of the power produced in the state comes from wind power and there are wind farms in the pipeline to push that to 15 percent, McGovern said. Much more is available at some point if more wind production is developed.
“South Dakota becomes an economic engine with this thing,” Hauffe said. “It’s a real game-changer for the South Dakota economy.”
They said what’s often lost during the debate is the hundreds of jobs that would be produced by a cleanenergy program. From producing energy-efficient windows to retrofitting homes and businesses to be more efficient, there are many employment opportunities, McGovern said.
There is also a future for wind-power technicians, such as students at Mitchell Technical Institute’s windpower program and another program in Watertown.
Once in the workplace, those graduates find goodpaying jobs, he said. McGovern claims up to 5,000 good-paying jobs would be created in the state.
Farmers also would benefit as corporations seeking carbon offsets would pay for notill and minimal-till farming, McGovern said.
Just a few years ago, some South Dakota farmers were receiving $4,000 and $5,000 payments for reducing their tillage, he said. That could happen again if the bill is passed.
They said Mitchell is at the center of an area already involved with and impacted by clean energy. Muth Electric is involved in environmentally sound policies, Hauffe said. Mark Puetz, of Puetz Corporation, flew to Washington, D.C., in May 2009 to testify in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
Puetz said then he wanted to highlight the “importance of efficiencies within the bill for the building-trade industry, and especially for Puetz Corporation.”
Knight & Carver’s Wind Group blade manufacturing plant in Howard employs dozens of workers despite some layoffs in recent months due to a reduction in demand for blades, McGovern said.
Trail King in Mitchell produced trailers that can haul wind turbine blades, McGovern noted.
These are all pieces of a puzzle to create a stronger local economy if the cleanenergy bill emerges from the Senate and is signed into law, he said.
The bill passed the House in June 2009 but has been stalled in the Senate. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin voted against it.
For it to make it to President Obama’s desk, it would need to pass the Senate. It would then go to a conference committee where a final version would be hammered out and resubmitted to both chambers.
A bill championed by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seemed close to passage, but Graham withdrew his support and so far, nothing has come to a vote.
McGovern is still optimistic and said he feels some Republicans will join with the majority of Democrats who support the bill to get it passed.
McGovern said he has been told by Herseth Sandlin that she would consider a compromise bill if it came before the House.
Sen. Tim Johnson hasn’t made an announcement on where he stands on it, McGovern said.
“He’s made some really positive statements on clean energy,” he said.
Sen. John Thune has been an ardent opponent. On Thursday, he said McGovern is advocating a program that would hurt most South Dakotans. Thune slammed the so-called “cap and trade” system proposed by the legislation, which would set pollution caps and allow heavier polluters to trade on the open market for permits from lighter polluters.
“Cap-and-trade legislation is a national backdoor energy tax being pushed by Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration,” Thune said in a statement sent to The Daily Republic. “This irresponsible energy tax would hit South Dakota households and businesses especially hard through increased electricity bills and higher gasoline prices at the pump.
“Attempts to regulate and limit carbon emissions through cap-and-trade will have a significant, negative impact on all sectors of our nation’s economy, including our agriculture industry,” Thune said. “South Dakota farmers and ranchers currently trying to make ends meet will be directly impacted by increased energy costs”
Thune said he remains a proponent of developing and expanding wind and biofuel production. He said he favors using “the necessary tools, including tax relief,” to do so.
McGovern said a harsh political climate has made it difficult to pass bills, unlike the past.
He said when his grandfather was in the Senate, politicians played cards, sipped drinks and got to know each other away from the floor. Now, issues such as clean energy are dragged into the political battlefield, McGovern said.
“It’s just been politicized,” he said. “It stops everything.”
He noted that several Republicans have sponsored bills on climate change and clean energy and some, including 2008 GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, spoke in favor of taking steps to protect the environment.
McGovern, who was reportedly considering a run against Thune this year, said he doesn’t discuss partisan politics in his current role. But he said he wonders why Thune doesn’t support a bill that he believes would create goodpaying jobs in the state.
Polls consistently show 62 to 65 percent support for the legislation, McGovern said.
He said once people learn America spends $1 billion a day on foreign oil, and when they hear that clean energy proposals call for using less oil and coal and would create jobs, they favor it.
It’s the same with climate change, in McGovern’s view. He said 97 to 98 percent of scientists agree that manmade pollution is impacting the environment.
“It’s unfortunate that some people want to play politics with the science,” he said. “Because the science is overwhelming.”
While trying to get one or two votes in the Senate for the bill is a major part of McGovern’s job, he also seeks to drum up support from the people of South Dakota.
“The main thing we can do is educate people,” he said.
The gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has cut both ways on his effort, McGovern said.
While it’s exposed the tremendous efforts and risks now done to obtain oil, it’s also raised awareness of the need for energy to keep America running.
“It highlights our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.
It used to be cheap and easy to get, with the first oil wells in Pennsylvania only 60 feet deep. Now, BP drills one mile under the ocean to get access to oil.
More hybrid vehicles that use both electricity and gasoline will soon be on the road, McGovern said. He feels the tide is turning his direction and people are willing to listen and learn.
“They get it when you explain it to them,” McGovern said.