Mesabi Daily News

Executive Editor
Published: Friday, February 20, 2009 12:21 AM CST

HIBBING — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., traveled to the Range on Thursday armed with some upbeat job statistics that she hopes and believes will result from the $879 billion federal stimulus/spending bill signed into law earlier this week.

But when the lawmaker, with family Range roots, arrived to speak at the Hibbing Community College in the late afternoon she had to add a new, unpleasant job number to her speech — 590 layoffs at the Minntac taconite mine in Mountain Iron.

“These are real people and this is a real story of layoffs and pain. It’s difficult but important to see and feel that firsthand,” Klobuchar said as she addressed a gathering of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce.
The senator, whose grandparents and father worked and lived in Ely, said even though she would have rather seen more money in the bill directed to job creation, her support for it was strong. “There are some good things in it I like ... some things I don’t. But I think it was the jolt this country needs,” she said. “The time for talk is over. We need action now.”

Klobuchar said Minnesota will receive $4 billion directly from the bill, with some of the money going to help the state with its projected $4.8 billion deficit that likely will grow to $6 billion or $7 billion when a Revenue Department forecast comes in later this month. Some of those millions will also go toward transportation projects, and to help with Medicaid and unemployment payments.

“In the nation, this bill will provide 3.5 million jobs in the next two years,” said Klobuchar, adding that she thinks there is a public misconception as to where those jobs will be created. “Ninety percent of them will be in the private sector,” she said.

The senator said 56,000 of those jobs will be created in Minnesota, with the 8th Congressional District landing 7,400 of them.

But Klobuchar cautioned there will likely be more pain. “This won’t be changed overnight,” she said.

The senator was clear and unequivocal in support of several Range projects to help bring about that change in the area, state and nation.

She cited the Essar Steel Minnesota steel mill/taconite mine project in Nashwauk, which would create an estimated 700 permanent jobs, and the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project in the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. near Hoyt Lakes that would directly create 400 jobs as mining ventures critical to the area’s economic future.

And, regarding energy, Klobuchar said a mix of renewables, oil and gas exploration, clean-coal projects and nuclear power is essential to put the country on the right energy-independent path. She specifically talked about the Excelsior Energy coal gasification project slated for the Bovey/Taconite area.

She said there will likely be an energy bill passed by Congress later this year. “We need to get the projects that benefit northern Klobuchar, an ardent supporter of renewable energy sources, said the potential for a broad mix of “green jobs” needs to be tapped. And she said the Iron Range could generate many renewable energy jobs with biomass, wind and biofuels.

The senator also praised the $7 billion in the bill for expanding broadband access in the country, especially in rural areas.

In a telephone interview after her speech, Klobuchar, who is a member of the “Gang of 20” in Congress seeking a bipartisan comprehensive energy policy, talked more about a commitment of the President Barack Obama Administration toward clean-coal technology.

“He has said he is very interested in renewable energy and other projects to go along with it. He has said during the campaign and since that he is committed to clean-coal technology. I campaigned for him in Montana and said it (clean-coal commitment) for him there,” Klobuchar said.

In that same interview, Klobuchar said she understands the frustrations of some people who are in the 90 percent of homeowners making their mortgage payments on time who now must watch as a foreclosure bailout proposal is offered that would help many of the other 10 percent.

“Yes, I hear that. But there are a lot of people just one step away. We don’t want to be helping unscrupulous people, but keeping people in their homes is better for everyone. Otherwise they would be out of a home and on the taxpayer dime. This is triage and needs to be done,” she said.

Klobuchar said she is confident that, with the help of her staff, she has a good general sense of where the money is going, even though the voluminous bill was crafted and passed hurriedly.

“It’s important that we get the money going as fast as possible. And it is helpful to know that the money is coming,” she said.