By Britta Arendt

U.S. Senate Amy Klobuchar completed her inaugural year and started the new year hitting the road with her 2008 Main Street Tour of local communities throughout Minnesota.

“I visited every one of Minnesota’s 87 counties during 2007, and I look forward to doing it again in 2008,” said Klobuchar in a press release provided by her office. “All over our state, people are concerned about declining home values and rising energy prices, as well as skyrocketing health care costs. This Main Street Tour will allow me to listen to Minnesotans’ ideas and bring them to Washington.”

During the first week of January, Klobuchar visited Cambridge, Milaca, Mora, McGregor, and Cloquet. On Thursday, she began her tour in Duluth addressing veteran’s issues, then officially opened her new office in Virginia which will be headed by Jerry Fallos of Gilbert. The senator ended Thursday’s engagements in Grand Rapids before heading to International Falls. Later in the month, Klobuchar will visit communities ranging from Worthington, Marshall and New Ulm in the south to Bemidji, Crookston and Hallock in the north.

Klobuchar noted that economic challenges and opportunities facing Minnesotans are a particular focus of her Main Street Tour.

“I’m meeting with large and small business owners to talk about issues such as rising costs for energy, health care, and transportation among others,” Klobuchar told the Herald-Review.

Klobuchar’s stop in Grand Rapids focused on a visit to UPM-Blandin Paper Company. A member of the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the freshman senator spoke with mill employees about initiatives included in the new Farm Bill that would provide for financial incentives toward research and development of biomass operations to convert wood, grasses and other biomass into fuels and biobased products. Klobuchar’s provisions in the new Farm Bill, passed last month by the U.S. Senate, are meant to spur the development of renewable biofuels, promote the sale of E-85 and biodiesel fuel and to fund new research in the next generation of cellulosic fuels.

While at Blandin, Klobuchar said she also addressed her support of legislation to lower rail rates for shippers by eliminating railroad antitrust laws, and anti-competitive practices. The proposed Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2007 is in response to reports of freight railroads abusing dominant market power with only four class I railroads providing more than 90 percent of the nation’s rail transportation, resulting in constant increases in rail rates. For major rail shippers, like Blandin Paper Company, the law will allow them to secure competitive rates and get substantial relief from the Surface Transportation Board.

In voicing her support for this legislation, Klobuchar has noted Blandin Paper Company as an example of the need for change in the rail rate system. With a plant in Grand Rapids and another in Finland, the company was paying the same to ship paper from the Finland plant to a customer in central Indiana as it was from the local mill along a captive rail line, even though there is a 4,000-mile difference in distance between the two plants.

The senator did not leave town without touching on some of last year’s success stories affecting Itasca County. These include success in securing federal funds for conservation and water projects, including the Forest Legacy Partnership which was prompted the state’s single, largest conservation easement of nearly 80 square miles, or 51,000 acres, of forest in Itasca and Koochiching counties, and another easement to protect 1,660 acres south of Grand Rapids.

Klobuchar also noted her work on the Environment and Public Works Committee in securing funding for vital water infrastructure projects as part of the Water Resources and Development Act, signed by President Bush this summer. Included in the funding is $5 million for Grand Rapids wastewater infrastructure reconstruction to support increased needs from the “Thunderhawk Project,” the proposed addition of a new paper line at Blandin. The reconstruction will mean old equipment and buildings will be replaced. More stringent water quality requirements also will be established with the reconstruction.

Klobuchar outlined her top priorities as addressing middle class issues, such as tax breaks; consumer issues such as cell phone fees and protection from faulty imported toys; energy issues, such as the biomass research; and “bread and butter things” such as the wastewater reconstruction funding.

“Too many hard-working, middle-class families are struggling with economic insecurity, while too many businesses are being squeezed on the bottom line,” said Klobuchar. “Washington needs to respond to these realities with policies that strengthen the opportunities for economic growth and shared prosperity.”

After Grand Rapids, Klobuchar visited with executives of Boise Cascade in International Falls before appearing at Friday’s Climate Change Forum in Ely with explorer Will Steger and Governor Tim Pawlenty. Here, Klobuchar addressed her proposal for a “carbon counter” registry of greenhouse gas emissions included in the Senate’s landmark, bipartisan climate change legislation.

In addition, Klobuchar will be the featured speaker on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the 19th annual “Marketplace for Entrepreneurs” economic development conference in Grand Forks. It is the largest, longest-running economic development forum focusing on the Great Plains region.

In 2007, Klobuchar visited all 87 Minnesota counties by the end of September. With the Main Street Tour, she plans to visit all of the state’s counties again in 2008.

In the Senate, Klobuchar serves on the Commerce, Agriculture and Environment committees. She also serves on the Joint Economic Committee, which is responsible for researching current economic conditions in the U.S. and recommending public policy reforms to strengthen economic prosperity.