In Midwest, Obama Touts Economic Policies

President Obama spent Wednesday stumping the heartland in search of support for his economic policies. Michele Norris talks to NPR's Ari Shapiro, about the president's dash though Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. President Obama is wrapping up his tour of the rural Midwest today. The two-day, campaign-style itinerary includes stops in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.

The focus of this tour is rural America. Many of the events have focused on clean energy, and NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to discuss the president's tour. Ari, tell us about the first stop the president made this afternoon.

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, he stopped at a bio-refining facility in Macon, Missouri. It's called POET, and it's a factory where they turn corn into ethanol. It is part of the clean energy theme of this tour through rural America.

Really, the most striking thing about the plant when we got out of the motorcade was the overwhelming yeasty smell, almost like bread rising. President Obama spoke to a crowd of employees in front of a big tractor full of what looked like corn kernels, and he said this factory is part of what he envisions as a new clean energy economy for rural America. Here's what he said.

President BARACK OBAMA: Well, I've said before, I don't accept second place for the United States of America. I want us to be first in wind power, first in solar power, and I want us to be first when it comes to biodiesel and the technologies that are being developed in places like POET.

NORRIS: Given that he was a senator who hailed from the state of Illinois and is quite familiar with ethanol and biofuel issues, I guess it's not surprising that this would be the focus.

SHAPIRO: That's right. He brought that up, that he had experience from this, going back to his days as a senator in Illinois. And biofuel is not the only focus.

Yesterday, he spoke at a wind turbine factory in Iowa, which gets 20 percent of its power from wind, more than any other state, and the reason he spoke at this wind turbine factory was that it had received more than three and a half million dollars in tax credits through the recovery act. So he says the recovery act was responsible not only for bringing clean energy to this part of Iowa but also for providing more than 600 jobs that wouldn't have existed otherwise.

NORRIS: Ari, why is this issue of clean energy the focus of a tour that moves through rural America?

SHAPIRO: Well, it all comes back to the rural economy. This was a question that I asked Bill Burton, the White House spokesman who's traveling on this tour, and here's the answer he gave me about Air Force One this morning.

Mr. BILL BURTON (White House Spokesman): If you look at the long arc of the economy in rural America, as farms became more and more productive, you frankly needed less and less farmers. So as a result, farm incomes have been going down, and a lot of the young folks in farm families have been moving away.

But by creating real investment in biofuels, what you can do is you can increase wages for farmers, strengthen the communities, all while keeping wages up and keeping folks in these areas.

SHAPIRO: So the administration sees clean energy as sort of a one-two punch. You can both boost jobs in rural America, and you can get the U.S. off foreign oil dependence, and it certainly doesn't hurt the White House that this push comes in the wake of two disasters related to old-fashioned energy policies.

There was, of course, the coal mine tragedy in West Virginia and the oil rig that sank in the Gulf of Mexico, both of which give the administration's clean energy push a little bit more momentum.

NORRIS: That's Ari Shapiro. He's traveling with the president throughout the Midwest. Ari, thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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