WASHINGTON, D.C. — Included in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package is money for a massive upgrade of U.S. roads, bridges and other facilities, but it also includes items that are important to the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
The bill, HR 3684, was signed into law Monday by President Joe Biden.
The Capital Press talked with experts about what’s in the infrastructure package for farmers and rural communities.
Water projects: First, the package will invest $8.3 billion in water projects including irrigation modernization, improved water storage and conveyance, aquifer recharge and repairs.
Wildfire prevention: Also included is more than $6 billion in wildfire-related investments, including dollars for prescribed burns, strategic thinning, developing fuel breaks and converting seasonal firefighting positions to permanent, year-round positions.
Mine cleanup: Some $16 billion will go toward pollution clean-up at former mining sites and abandoned wells.
Livestock haulers: Tucked into the bill is a victory for the livestock industry. Haulers are now granted a 150 air-mile radius between the origin and destination of their trip, giving truckers more hours of flexibility.
Before this bill, a driver hauling livestock could run out of hours under Department of Transportation rules before reaching a destination, a problem since live animals can’t be made to wait at a truck stop until the driver’s clock resets.
“This is a big deal,” Lia Biondo, interim vice president of the United States Cattlemen’s Association, wrote in an email to the Capital Press.
More truckers: The bill also invests in a pilot project aiming to draw women and young people ages 18 to 20 into truck driving.
Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said this is an important step toward fixing “constraints in trucking, including insufficient truck drivers.”
Not everyone is convinced the plan will work. One policy expert said companies have already raised wages and benefits to attract new drivers with little success. He said “only history can tell” if the pilot program will work.
Roads, bridges: The bill invests $110 billion in U.S. roads and bridges. What percentages of that funding will go toward rural versus urban roads, however, is not yet clear.
Power grids: Some $5 million is tied to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Disaster Safe Power Grid Act if it passes. It would create a matching grant program to incentivize utility companies to secure their power grids against natural disasters and to prevent fires.
Klamath habitat: Some $162 million will go toward Klamath habitat restoration work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
School funding: The bill also invests $870 million in the nationwide Secure Rural Schools program, which is a lifeline for school districts that lost federal timber money when the industry was throttled by harvest reductions related to environmental laws.
Ports: It also invests $17.3 billion in ports and inland waterways, a move farm groups have widely praised.
Internet: The package includes $65 billion in broadband internet investments, of great importance to rural areas. According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 26% of rural Americans lack access to broadband internet compared to less than 2% of urban Americans.
Critics of the package say that although the bill makes worthy investments, it may “heap more fuel on the inflation fire” by intensifying demand on labor and building materials when both are already in short supply. Advocates, in contrast, say infrastructure projects are too crucial to wait and add that many projects won’t begin until 2023, when inflationary pressures may have lessened.