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In Other Words: How many lives must be sacrificed for fuel?

When gas prices rise again this summer, will you be surprised? As much as we take for granted our access to supplies of petroleum, we've always known fossil fuels were limited and a source of dangerous air pollution.

We saw it in 1973 with the first Arab oil embargo and again in 1979 with the second oil embargo. Our most respected military leaders tell us our dependence on coal and oil weakens our security and causes climate change that will lead to more military conflicts in the future.

In 2006, President George W. Bush warned that "America is addicted to oil," a lesson we learned again with the loss of refinery services following Hurricane Katrina, resulting in $4 per gallon gas during 2005. Now it's 2010, and Congress is debating a climate and clean energy bill that will hold polluters accountable and create jobs making homes and businesses more efficient, and help America transition to clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy. We spend a billion dollars a day on foreign oil. We need to cut our dependence and take control of our energy future. If we pass a clean energy bill, we can cut our dependence in half and reinvest that money in clean, American energy.

Failure to make the transition will lead to incalculable losses in money, lives and global productivity. Standing in the way are deep-pocketed lobbyists who pressure Congress and elected officials every day to prevent this transition to a clean energy economy.

Isn't it time our nation began a serious transition to renewable energy? Shouldn't we take control of our energy future? That was my conclusion after serving 24 years in the U.S. Navy. I commanded a patrol boat in the Persian Gulf near giant oil tankers while they waited to fill with Middle East oil to ship to the United States and our allies. One of the primary missions of our Navy is to protect shipping lanes that feed the world's addiction to oil. What's the cost of clinging to a fossil fuel economy? It involves a lot more than the $1 billion per day that America pays for foreign oil.

Today in the Pentagon and in America's intelligence community, our nation's best minds are analyzing data from polar ice melts, the loss of glaciers, and changes in moisture, seasons and storm intensity to determine how they will affect national security. They are developing contingencies to handle naval invasions coming straight across the North Pole when the ice cap is gone. They're determining what happens when nations are destabilized from famine and floods created by increasingly extreme weather. They know that the easiest place to recruit new terrorists is from the camps of millions of poor, displaced refugees.

You know, it only takes $200 to convince a desperate refugee in Iraq to carry an IED and place it next to a road. And when Americans pay out $1 billion per day for foreign oil, much of which goes to nations that are unstable or hostile to us, we are funding both sides of the war on terror. This is the new price of fossil fuel. It becomes a "threat multiplier." It ties our hands in foreign policy, funds terrorists, entangles America with hostile regimes and undermines our security. Fossil fuels are America's Achilles' heel.

When a member of Congress tells you that it's too costly to support the clean energy bill, ask how much he or she is willing to spend or how many lives should be sacrificed at the altar of fossil fuels. As a veteran who's seen the sacrifices of American soldiers in the Middle East, I hope Congress understands the full cost of this path and how rapidly that cost will increase over time. Converting to a clean energy economy is the most patriotic and cost-effective thing Congress and our nation can do for cleaner air, stronger national security and more high-wage American jobs.

Richard Hegdahl is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former resident of Mitchell. He graduated from MHS in 1976.

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 to: The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. Not all submitted material will be used.