DULUTH — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., went on a whirlwind tour of Northeastern Minnesota today, meeting with labor groups, industry officials and others to talk about the economic stimulus plan and outline what it means for the region.
At the AFL-CIO Labor Temple in Duluth, Klobuchar spoke to about 40 people about the money available for Minnesota and where it will go.
“There’s about a 25 percent unemployment rate in the trades [in Duluth] right now,” Klobuchar said. “This money for improving schools, health care, transportation and energy will help that.”
Klobuchar said the money would go toward those improvements, as well as Medicaid and other health care funding, broadband upgrades, and tax cuts and incentives, including those for renewable energy.
Extending tax breaks to spur energy tech
“We want to start up an energy technology revolution,” Klobuchar said. “We have short-term tax breaks that don’t get people to invest. We want to extend those for five years on things such as wind turbines.”
Duluth Building Trades President Craig Olson, who had provided Klobuchar with the 25 percent unemployment figure, said the plan sounded “very encouraging” and hoped the projects would be able to start quickly enough to help.
“The [Duluth] airport, the Duluth school districts and other school districts, highways, bridges — they’re all shovel-ready,” he said. “Some trades are at 45 percent [unemployment] and if we can get these projects on an aggressive schedule, it would really help.”
Grateful for ‘Buy American’ clause
John Rebrovich, subdistrict director of the United Steelworkers District 11, said he was happy Klobuchar worked hard to keep the “Buy American” clause in the package.
“This is our money being used for the stimulus,” he said. “Why the hell should we bring that money to China or India when we need to get it here?” Steel produced from the Iron Range’s taconite will be needed for many of the infrastructure projects.
Klobuchar said the Senate has decided to hold off on action on the Employee Free Choice Act until Minnesota seats its second senator, and that having a sympathetic labor secretary should help labor’s standing in the Obama administration. Hilda Solis has not yet been confirmed, and some Republicans consider her too friendly to labor.
Klobuchar then spoke at Minnesota Power about wind-energy production and the role it can play in the state’s economy.
Dave McMillan, executive vice president of Minnesota Power, touted renewable energy as the company’s future, pointing out that in its first 100 years, it had developed a capacity of 130 megawatts through hydroelectric generation, and that over the past three years had almost doubled that amount through wind energy.
Aiming for a third renewables by 2025
The company is hoping to generate about a third of its energy through renewables by 2025, McMillan said. “We want to do it cost-effectively when we add renewables,” he said. “We want to keep competitive energy prices.”
Dean Talbott, who works in the company’s conservation improvement program, said one of the biggest challenges will be finding enough trained installers for renewable-energy infrastructure. “We are working with the state energy office on training programs,” he said. “We need trained contractors and this economic stimulus can help with that.”
Klobuchar is scheduled to visit Grand Rapids and Hibbing later in the day.