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Obama taps S.D. native for USDA

WASHINGTON -- Jonathan Adelstein, a South Dakota native who is President Obama's choice to run the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service, reached deep into his family history during his Senate confirmation hearing July 7 to explain his...

WASHINGTON -- Jonathan Adelstein, a South Dakota native who is President Obama's choice to run the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service, reached deep into his family history during his Senate confirmation hearing July 7 to explain his commitment to bringing high speed Internet service and other utilities to rural America.

Adelstein's father who was present for his son's hearing, said his son's great-grandmother homesteaded in Interior, S.D., near the Pine Ridge reservation and later operated a store.

"My great-grandmother homesteaded near the Badlands and thrived there, along with so many other pioneers who were scattered over large distances, by staying connected and pulling for each other," Adelstein said. "Since those times, my family has a long history of improving the infrastructure of rural America." He noted that his grandfather built bridges for the Allies in Europe during World War I and came home to start a construction company, which his father took over and his brother now runs. The family motto, he said, is "Builders of Better Bridges and Highways" and that he would like to "carry that mission with me to the RUS."

Adelstein, who worked for former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and has been a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission for the past six years, noted that he had been one of the Senate staffers who helped write the broadband provisions of the 2002 farm bill.

"It would be a special honor, if confirmed to implement that program in a way that ensures it can reach its highest potential," he said. "Building better rural utilities is critical to the quality of life and future economic prosperity of rural America."

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Adelstein added that he especially wants to promote renewable energy technologies.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, noted that the economic stimulus package contains $2.5 billion for bringing Internet service to rural America and said Adelstein should distribute the money quickly, but also not waste it.

Harkin said Adelstein should help small towns and rural communities with their applications even if they contain some errors.

"You shouldn't have to hire a grant writer or a consultant to get money for a small town," Adelstein responded to Harkin.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., noted that under the Bush administration, 77 percent of the areas getting Internet service with USDA's help already had service and told Adelstein "you really need to get it to unserved communities." Chambliss also noted that a conservation district in his state has used the Internet to achieve efficiencies.

RUS, which started out as the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930s, still is in charge of USDA electricity and telephone programs, and Chambliss also urged Adelstein to use his power to re-establish baseload financing for nuclear power plants. That financing is controversial because of the concern about safety of nuclear power plants, but Adelstein said he would "raise the issue with the administration."

Adelstein got a bipartisan introduction to the committee by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who both praised his qualifications for the job. Adelstein is a Democrat, but his father Stanford Adelstein, is a Republican who represents the eastern half of Rapid City, S.D., in the state Senate and chairs the South Dakota Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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