Apr 08 2008

Shelby touts Alabama’s economy

DeKalb Times-Journal

By Jared Felkins

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby is singing the praises of a sound economy in Alabama, and specifically in DeKalb County.

Shelby, who will be the eighth senior ranking senator in January, said he wants to stress Alabama’s economy is strong despite national reports. He talked to about 15 DeKalb County residents in a town hall meeting at the Rainsville Fire Department Saturday as part of his annual state tour.

“Our economy is good,” Shelby said. “It’s the best I’ve seen in several years and the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. We are attracting a lot of new jobs and are open for business. We’ve got good people who will work and compete.”

Shelby noted the state’s recruitment of several automotive industries, including Mercedes in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, and a supplier announced last week locating there. Shelby also noted German steelmaker Thyssen Krupp, which announced a major steel plant in Mobile last year. He also said the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be consolidating to a new headquarters soon in Huntsville.

“I tell people we are open for business in Alabama,” Shelby said.

Shelby noted he has plans to ask Congress for $500 million to invest in the first world-class engineering, math and science programs at Alabama’s major universities.

But with gas prices soaring, Congress met with six of the largest oil executives last week in hope of finding answers about increasing profits.

Shelby said Congress can only treat oil companies like any other corporation and has little control over how prices are set.

“We have many challenges, but also a lot of assets,” Shelby said. “Our biggest challenge is energy and oil. We used to be an exporter of oil, but now we are an importer.

“We are at the mercy and are becoming more at the mercy of these countries that have oil. We should be drilling more off shore. We should be drilling in Alaska.”

Shelby said an added 20 million barrels of oil could be extracted from Alaska annually. He said he supports these measures.

“The oil companies are taxed like any other corporation. They are not in the alternative energy business. They are in the oil business. It would make sense they would invest now in alternatives because oil won’t last forever.”

And the answer is alternatives to gasoline, Shelby said.

“If we don’t find an alternative for oil, we are going to continue to be at the mercy of these countries. We are putting more money in research for alternative energy. Is hydrogen the answer? I don’t know, but it’s everywhere. We could do something politically, and we can do it environmentally sound.”

Shelby, however, said he doesn’t support ethanol research because of the added costs and energy involved to create it.

“I don’t see any breakthrough yet,” Shelby said. “We are too dependent on the combustible engine.”

As a ranking member on the Committee on Baking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Shelby said Congress is working on a solution to the U.S. mortgage crisis.

“There was too much easy money available and people buying homes they couldn’t afford,” Shelby said. “There were a lot of questionable loans made. You can’t bail out everyone. I think some people were taken advantage of.

“The solution is pain, which no one likes. The solution is in the market. At some point, it will fix itself. It will catch up and homes will go back up in value. The government can’t fix everything, but we can create conditions. I think Alabama is going to do a lot better in this economic downturn than other states.”

Shelby said he also supports Central American Free Trade Agreement tariffs on sock imports from Honduras, which is currently being considered by the Bush Administration.

“That’s something we need for this area,” he said.

On the topic of illegal immigration, Shelby stressed strengthening border security.

“We all come from immigrants. I know I do,” Shelby said. “We all have a set of laws but we do not enforce them. Our borders are not secure. If we don’t control our borders and the people who come in here, this country is going to be in trouble.”