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Why I Wanted to Be CEO of the American Wind Energy Association

I've supported wind energy from the outside for many years, as a promising source of clean energy for America and hope for our future. Now I'm excited to get the chance to lead the U.S. industry and its campaign to make good on that promise.

As some of you who've seen my earlier columns will have heard, I just completed 15 fulfilling years as head of the National Parks Conservation Association and started last week as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

This latest move reflects a feeling I've had since childhood that I want to make the biggest difference I can to preserve the natural environment. I spent a large portion of childhood exploring the woods across the street from my house and then seized the opportunity in high school to take an environmental chemistry class. It was there I learned about acid rain, which inspired me to create a college major in Environmental Computer Modeling.

Years later, when I was a deputy of the Air Office in EPA working on the Clean Air Act, my four-year old son asked me what I did. I explained that I helped to get dirt out of the air. My son looked at me and simply replied, "You make the sky blue."

While his statement was a "bit" of an overstatement, I have not wanted to disappoint him and have dedicated my life to leaving this planet healthy for our children and their children. Wind energy makes a significant contribution: it's among the lowest-impact energy sources, and since it creates thousands of jobs and invests billions into our economy, it has bipartisan support.

Or simply stated, wind energy helps to make the sky blue.

For my entire career, I've sought to strengthen the ties between conservation and the American business community, because a strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.

Wind power has enormous potential to reduce humanity's overall footprint on the environment and the planet. It's also a major solution to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change and threatening wildlife with extinction. Wind energy has already reduced U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions by 4.4 percent! If you believe as I do that climate change is one of the most critical issues facing our society, wind energy is one solution we want to maximize.

Wind energy has become a mainstream power source. Last year alone it attracted $25 billion in private investment and employed 80,000 American workers — not bad during a recession. And, it's increasingly made-in-the-USA by more than 550 factories in 44 states manufacturing nearly 70 percent of the components of an average wind turbine. With predictable federal and state policies to create a stable business environment, it can do even more.

In recent years, anti-wind forces — often with funding support from competing energy industries — have circulated outlandish claims to try to discredit wind energy.

Although it's a very low-impact technology (no air pollution, no water pollution, no mining or drilling for fuel, no water use, and no hazardous or radioactive waste), no energy source is zero-impact. Recognizing this, the wind energy industry has a long history of proactively working with government and conservation groups to be a good environmental citizen and neighbor.

The good news is that people and businesses are seeing through the urban legends being circulated against wind. Jobs from new wind farms are giving rural communities across America's heartland an economic shot in the arm. Electric utilities are ordering more wind power. Attacks on state renewable energy standards are being defeated.

Wind power is clean, affordable and homegrown. The country needs us to succeed; the natural world needs us to succeed; and frankly, my children and your children need us to succeed...in making the sky blue.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Wind turbine via Shutterstock

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Tom Kiernan began as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association on May 28, 2013. Prior to that he spent 15 years as President of the National Parks Conservation Association. Kiernan, a native and long-time resident of Arlington, Va., graduated...

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