Senate Passes Rural Infrastructure Bill – DTN

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    With Tuesday’s passage of a $1.2-trillion infrastructure package, various agricultural groups had their specific provision or issue they were excited to see finally addressed.

    The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed the bill 69-30 to send to the House, which will likely take up the Senate bill or its own version when Congress returns from its August recess. The Senate then immediately turned attention to passing a budget reconciliation bill that would include $3.5 trillion in spending during the next decade for an array of government programs.

    The infrastructure package also is a key piece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. If the bill makes it to final passage, it will mark one of the biggest single investments in roads, bridges, waterways and electric infrastructure in history.

    HAULS ACT INCLUSION

    For the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — kicking off its annual meeting in Nashville — the group backs the infrastructure bill because of the inclusion of the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act. The provisions would allow livestock haulers to bypass normal trucking hours-of-service limitations if the livestock haulers are within 150 miles of their destination.

    “What the HAULS Act does is it allows us to transport our livestock across the country in a humane way,” said Jerry Bohn, president of NCBA and a Kansas cattle feeder. “So, if a trucker can get that extra 150 miles without having to shut down, that’s going to help us haul our cattle in a more humane way.”

    NEW SPENDING FOR INFRASTRUCTURE

    The bill includes a projected $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure over 10 years. That includes $110 billion for roads, including $40 billion for bridge projects. Another $55 billion will go toward various water projects. Another $66 billion will go toward rail.

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    Bohn also noted the bill includes $65 billion to expand broadband access nationally, which is expected to build out broadband infrastructure in rural America.

    “That’s really a big win for us, and certainly there are a lot of victories for rural America there,” Bohn said.

    The National Corn Growers Association spotlighted the $17.3 billion in the bill for ports and inland waterways. NCGA noted 60% of corn exports utilize the inland waterways and ports.

    “Whether it’s shipping corn and corn products on America’s highways and waterways or using technology to order supplies or sell crops, farmers rely on a safe, stable and reliable national infrastructure,” said John Linder, NCGA’s president. “Corn growers need these investments in infrastructure to continue to be successful and competitive globally.”

    CREATES MORE JOBS

    The Association of Equipment Manufacturers had recently released a study showing the legislation could create more than 100,000 equipment manufacturing jobs and nearly 500,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs overall.

    “For years, equipment manufacturers have led the charge for a historic investment in our nation’s core infrastructure needs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act not only reflects many of our industry’s policy priorities but is also proof that members of both parties can work together for the benefit of all Americans,” said Kip Eideberg, senior vice president of government and industry relations for AEM.

    DEALS WITH EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a statement crediting the Senate for passing the bill in a bipartisan manner. Vilsack pointed to investments in broadband, as well as power infrastructure and drinking water, and dealing with challenges such as wildfires and extreme weather events that are increasing in rural America.

    “The bill helps farmers grappling with intensifying drought and makes the West’s water infrastructure more resilient,” Vilsack said.

    “Importantly, the bill will increase the scale of wildfire mitigation, funds reforestation projects, and improves post-fire restoration activities so we can better support communities recovering from fire, better manage our forests, and do more to protect our natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities,” he said.

    DEALS WITH INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES

    Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill deals with pressing infrastructure issues facing the country that have become too big to ignore.

    “Farmers and ranchers depend on millions of miles of roadways and waterways to get their products to America’s dinner tables, and they rely on ports to ship food, fiber and fuel to countries around the world,” Duvall said. “Improvements in transportation infrastructure, as well as repair and upgrades to the aging Western water infrastructure, will ensure farmers can continue to keep this nation fed.”

    Duvall also pointed to tax concerns facing farmers and thanked senators for “preserving important tax provisions that make it possible for farmers to pass the family business to the next generation.” Duvall urged the House to “follow the Senate’s lead by leaving tax rates and stepped-up basis unchanged.”

    INVESTING IN WESTERN WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

    A coalition of agricultural groups in Western states highlighted more than $8 billion in the bill to repair aging dams and canals; build new surface and groundwater storage and conveyance facilities; fund water conservation and recycling projects; and enhance watershed management and improve ecosystems.

    Nearly two-thirds of the West falls into extreme or exceptional drought conditions. There are also more than 90 active wildfires burning across the country, the groups noted.

    “With drought conditions continuing to worsen throughout the West, now is the time to invest and make timely improvements in our nation’s water management portfolio,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau.

    “The diverse investments in Western water infrastructure and our national forestlands included in this package will assist farmers, ranchers, water providers and rural communities impacted by wildfires, water shortages and a changing hydrology.”

    MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR ETHANOL

    Not everyone issued glowing statements of praise. Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition of Ethanol, said the bill is a “missed opportunity” to help deliver lower-carbon emissions in the transportation sector through higher ethanol blends. Jennings noted at least some senators had sought to add language to the bill that would provide higher ethanol blends such as E15 year-round.

    “If Congress wants to achieve immediate climate benefits from clean energy infrastructure, it should provide incentives for retailers to sell E15 and E85 and for automakers to resume the production of flexible fuel vehicles,” Jennings said.

    FUNDS FOR RURAL PROJECTS

    The bill has dozens of provisions that set aside specific funds for rural projects in areas such as roads, bridges, waterways and broadband. The bill includes the Rural Surface Transportation grant program, which authorizes $2 billion over five years. A separate bridge restoration fund would spend $3.26 billion over five years. Certain rural areas will see federal government match on community projects to as much as 90%.

    For electric infrastructure upgrades in rural America, as much as $1 billion is authorized to help improve the electric grid in towns or unincorporated areas with 10,000 people or fewer. Another $1 billion is set aside for rural water grants as well.

    Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

    Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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