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Kind: Time to kick fossil fuel habit now

Answers to escalating fuel costs lie in developing alternative energy sources and learning conservation lessons we should have learned two decades ago, said Congressman Ron Kind Friday.

He suggested a "new Apollo" effort to make the United States energy independent by 2020.

Kind, D-Wisconsin, made time for an interview between lunch with Pierce County officials and attending the inauguration for UW-River Falls Chancellor Don Betz. The congressman also held a town hall meeting in Ellsworth later in the day.

"The truth is we don't have a lot of leverage," said Kind of President George W. Bush's statement that the best way to lower the price of gasoline is to encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market.

"The problem with that idea is it's not a long-term solution," said Kind. "The fact is we're in a race for a limited supply (of oil) with China and India."

Kind called ever-rising prices at the pumps "another wakeup call."

"I don't know how many more times we have to go through this pain as a country," he said. While today's fuel shortages are partially due to hurricane damage, to the war in Iraq and to lack of refineries in this country, America has had decades to wean itself off dependence on foreign oil and to develop alternative fuel, said Kind.

In this country, large companies have held back on developing refineries that could have increased domestic production.

"How do you hold a gun to their head and say stop doing that?" wondered Kind.

A start, he suggested, would be to trim $16 billion of tax breaks and subsidies those companies receive. Nor was Kind supportive of a Republican plan to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration. Even if work starts today, it would take 15 years for wells there to begin production and that would be at the expense of "desecrating" one of the world's last frontiers, said Kind.

America needs to take another look at nuclear generation if ways can be found to deal with it safely and to dispose of waste safely, he said.

A GOP proposal to give most American taxpayers a $100 rebate check to offset the cost of higher gasoline prices isn't an entirely bad idea, said Kind.

"It's a recognition of the pain we're all facing when we go to the pumps, but it's not a long-term solution."

All Americans need to take responsibility for reducing energy consumption, said Kind. "I know it's asking for a lifestyle change."

The government could cut the federal gas tax to help lower prices at the pump, but by doing that the country would lose money needed to repair the infrastructure. That would mean less money for work such as the County Road F project in Pierce County, said Kind.

He said lowering the tax "is not going to have a bit impact, and it's not an answer."

Kind suggested, as a beginning, tapping into the energy and ingenuity of younger generation. He said he would start by issuing a challenge to students on the five college campuses in the Third District.

Kind said he will ask students to compete to develop methods of saving energy on each campus.

While the World War II generation has come to be known as the "Greatest Generation," the current generation could become the "Greenest Generation," said the congressman.

Conservation of energy needs to become a national effort, he said. "If everyone does it across the country, you're going to see a real impact."

Kind said America needs "a real moon shot type of vision" to tackle this problem and the motivation might just be $3.20 a gallon gasoline.

"We need to establish higher fuel efficiency standards," said Kind. He also supports the development of new energy sources such as ethanol and biofuels.

Kind is a cosponsor of legislation to develop the market for alternative fuels by providing tax credits for E-85 and hybrid fuel users and expanding incentives for producers and purchasers of clean-running vehicles.

If it's done right, a move to more reliance on ethanol and biodiesel could be just what rural America needs, said Kind. More money would stay in rural communities and would benefit family farms.

Brazil, which has developed a cost-effective alternative to gasoline, expects to become energy independent this year.

That's a lead America should follow, said Kind. "It's something we should have been doing 20 years ago.

Judy Wiff can be contacted at