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County meetings show concerns

By By Sen. Richard Shelby, Guest Columnist
Twenty-two years ago, when I was running for the United States Senate, I promised that each year I would visit every county in our state to listen and learn about the issues most important to Alabamians. Since making that commitment, I have held 1,474 county meetings throughout the state. This year, after starting my county visits on Jan. 14, I finished my 67th meeting April 19 in Wilcox County.
Over the years, these meetings have provided Alabamians an open forum to voice their concerns, frustrations, successes, suggestions and opinions on the activities of our government, and this year was no different.It probably won’t come as a surprise to know that rising gas prices was among the top concerns raised by attendees at my town hall meetings this year. In that regard, I believe that the number one challenge facing our nation today is energy. It is well known that gas prices are linked to oil production and right now, the demand for oil in our nation is greater than what is being produced. According to the Energy Information Administration, to keep up with the demand, the United States is importing 5 billion barrels of oil each year. For each dollar used to import this oil, we export a dollar of our nation’s wealth.Contributing to the problem is a critical lack of oil refining capacity in the United States. In fact, a new oil refinery has not been built here since 1976.
Our system is under great strain and the effects are felt by Americans each time they fill up at the pump. There is a solution — we need to find an alternative energy source that will run our cars and heat our homes. Unfortunately, a realistic substitute for oil has yet to be discovered, though I am hopeful that a new generation of scientists and engineers will come up with a solution to free our nation of its dependence on foreign sources.
The end date of our direct involvement in Iraq is not yet known, but there will be an end date. Strengthening the political, military and economic institutions that will allow Iraq to prosper and stand on its own is a fundamental prerequisite for redeploying our forces back to the United States. Ultimately, the future of Iraq lies with its government and with its people. However, I firmly believe that whatever course our strategy in Iraq takes, it must never include abandoning our nation’s principles or throwing away the sacrifices made by our armed forces.
The end date should come not as the result of an arbitrary “exit strategy,” but as the result of an environment in which Iraqi political and economic structures have the opportunity to succeed.
Throughout my travels in Alabama, we discussed many other issues and I assure you that I will keep the priorities of each county in mind as we move forward in the 110th Congress.
Each year, I look forward to traveling the state, seeing old friends and hearing about what is on the minds of Alabamians. I am honored to represent Alabama in the United States Senate and I will continue to work in the best interests of our state and our nation.

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