Senator John ThuneAs I return to the Senate after spending most of August traveling around South Dakota, I am more convinced than ever that Congress must act quickly to pass meaningful legislation without succumbing to the temptation of waiting until after the November election to come up with solutions. Like most Americans, South Dakotans are struggling to meet their energy costs, and the looming winter heightens the danger of high energy prices even more. It is time to stop playing politics with America's energy future, which impacts all consumers in the pocketbook.
In early July, I worked with a bipartisan group of Senators in unveiling the New Energy Reform Act of 2008, a plan that expands our domestic offshore oil exploration while creating incentives for renewable energy. The plan also calls for increased production of nuclear power, coal-to-liquid fuel, and second generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.
South Dakota is at the forefront of renewable energy production. Throughout August, my travels focused on South Dakota's energy production capabilities, and I am very impressed with what I have seen. I toured the Heartland Consumers Power District's Wessington Springs Wind project, one of the largest of its kind in South Dakota. This particular project has drawn national attention for its energy production potential.
As exciting as the wind energy developments in South Dakota are, the industry will be in jeopardy if Congress fails to extend the renewable energy production tax credit that is set to expire in December. That is why I worked to ensure the New Energy Reform Act would include a long-term extension of the tax credit, which will give investors the confidence to add to our nation's wind energy infrastructure.
Last month I also held a Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City to discuss the energy potential of the Black Hills. Specifically, the hearing focused on expanding the definition of "renewable biomass" in the 2007 Energy Bill's Renewable Fuel Standard to include waste material collected from national forests. These waste materials can be converted into cellulosic ethanol and hold great potential as we work to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Additionally, using waste materials that are found in our national forests can be an effective management tool in reducing wildfires.
Although energy is certainly one of the top issues on the minds of South Dakotans, I was able to meet with constituents to discuss other issues too. I joined the other members of the congressional delegation at the State Fair to discuss the new Farm Bill that I helped write as well as other topics. I met with health care providers, local officials, and economic development officials in towns across South Dakota. I even had the opportunity to celebrate the dedication of the Mni Wiconi water pipeline in Wanblee.
Congress faces major challenges that require action before the upcoming election. Congressional leaders cannot put off business as important as reducing energy costs until next year, because the issue of high gas prices has a real, painful effect on the lives of everyone in this country. I am fortunate to be returning to Washington with a month's worth of South Dakota input and solutions, and I look forward to working to put them in place.