U.S. Energy secretary campaigns in St. Paul to push Biden's $4.5 trillion spending plan

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was in St. Paul on Friday campaigning for $4.5 trillion of new spending on infrastructure, green technology and social programs -- a major part of President Joe Biden's agenda that's stalled in Congress.

Granholm joined U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, who predicted that the bills would pass soon despite opposing concerns from centrist Democrats about the plan's size and progressives who say it doesn't go far enough.

"I’m here today for this very reason. Cabinet members are being sent across the country to be able to do this (campaign for the legislation)," Granholm said. "Members of Congress are doubling down on explaining what is in this bill for people, because when people hear it, they love it."

The massive spending package includes $12,500 in tax breaks for buying an electric car. It also offers tens of millions of dollars to build out electric vehicle charging stations in Minnesota.

In a move controversial with Republicans, Gov. Tim Walz's administration is implementing new fuel emissions standards that require dealers to hold a higher percentage of EVs on their lots starting with the 2025 model year.

Republicans see the green technology spending as wasteful. They point to other elements of the bill -- like the extension of the expanded child tax credit -- as benefit programs that will make people reliant on the government.

Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House but have razor-thin margins in both the House and Senate. "I just know we're going to reach an agreement," Klobuchar told reporters.

At Friday's roundtable with Granholm, Klobuchar and Smith, International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers Local 949 members raised concerns about the smaller number of jobs on wind and solar farms compared with power plants.

Jobs are the "number one" concern for the union, said Mark Kaufman, IBEW Local 949's business representative. 

The event was initially supposed to be at the union hall before Energy Department staffers made an 11th-hour move to Fresh Energy, a pro-green technology organization in St. Paul. Granholm said the event required a bigger space.

Xcel Energy President Chris Clark, who participated in the roundtable, said his utility will avoid layoffs as it phases out its coal fired power plants, which it expects to do by 2030.

Skyrocketing natural gas bills

This week, Granholm's agency estimated that Americans who heat their homes with natural gas will pay 30 percent more this winter because of supply disruptions.

Asked if the Biden administration would curb skyrocketing prices, Granholm said the COVID-19 stimulus approved in March includes an expansion of aid for low-income households. The administration is encouraging production to ramp back up after the pandemic, she said.

"You cannot flip a switch after a major shutdown, which the pandemic essentially was, and have an economy turn on a dime," Granholm told reporters.