Ag Groups Champion Infrastructure Bill – DTN

    U.S. Capitol building - Washington D.C. Photo: Licensed image.

    Pointing to current challenges such as the logjams in supply chains, agricultural and business leaders over the weekend largely praised Congress for final passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that some say will amount to one of the largest investments in infrastructure in U.S. history.

    The bill passed late Friday night by a 228-206 vote with 13 Republicans joining 215 Democrats to back the bill passage. Six Democrats voted with 200 Republicans against the bill.

    Infrastructure Bill Heads to President

    President Joe Biden spent the weekend lauding lawmakers for final passage of the bill, but no details have been released on when he will sign it into law.

    Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, cited current supply chain challenges that have clogged arteries at ports. He said that issue was not one of supply and demand, but infrastructure. Steenhoek pointed to infrastructure problems with Hurricane Ida, the I-40 bridge at Memphis, Tenn., and the ships stuck in the Suez Canal as supply chain issues that can show how “if one of our critical junctures goes awry for a number of reasons, the consequences to the broader economy can be profound.”

    Steenhoek added, “For agriculture, a catastrophic failure at one of the locks and dams — many constructed in the 1930s — would suffocate farmers’ ability to meet the demand of our international customers. The significant number of structurally deficient and load restricted bridges in rural America imposes significant detours and, as a result, millions of dollars of unnecessary costs into our food delivery system. During this period of rising inflation, we need to ensure that our transportation system moderates costs, rather than inflaming them.”

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the bill “a transformative, historic investment in America.” The secretary cited the investments in an array of infrastructure projects in rural America.

    “This is a tremendous opportunity to build up rural America with wealth that stays in rural communities, jobs you can raise a middle-class family on, and the ability to compete around the world,” Vilsack said.

    The bill provides $548 billion in added funds for infrastructure, spending $944 billion over the next five years and $1.2 trillion over the next eight years.

    Among additional funding, $110 billion will go for roads and bridges, including $40 billion specifically for bridge repair and replacement; another $66 billon will go towards both passenger and freight rail; $25 billion for airports; and $17 billion for ports and waterways.

    In other areas, the bill has $65 billion for electric and power infrastructure; $65 billion for national broadband expansion; $55 billion for drinking water; and $50 billon for climate resilience and water infrastructure.

    Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the group was disappointed with unnecessary delays in the House before Friday night’s vote, but AFBF appreciates Congress passing the crucial bipartisan legislation.

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    “We can’t afford to ignore the millions of miles of roadways, waterways and railways rural America relies on to keep our country fed, especially as we see widespread supply chain challenges,” Duvall said. ” Extending broadband to rural communities is just as much a priority. A quarter of America’s farm families have no high-speed internet access while working to meet the needs of a growing world. Investments in physical infrastructure like broadband will be critical to bridging the digital divide.”

    Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said passage of the bill would strengthen the food supply chain with its investments in roads, bridges, dams, and waterways. He also pointed to broadband needs in rural America as well as climate provisions in the bill.

    “Provisions in the bill will also help us respond to the climate crisis by increasing the resiliency of watersheds, improving water infrastructure in the west to address more frequent droughts, and by investing in wildfire mitigation,” Larew said. “This bill, as part of the greater Build Back Better Agenda, recognizes that rural American vitality is key to ensuring the prosperity of our country.”

    The National Corn Growers Association also highlighted the inland waterways portion of the bill, citing that 60% of corn exports move down rivers and maintenance of inland waterways is vital for export competitiveness. “We are pleased to see the House act on this legislation which was developed in a bipartisan manner and allocates funding for initiatives that are extremely important to corn growers and rural America,” said NCGA President Chris Edgington, an Iowa farmer. “This is a once in a generation infrastructure investment that will help farmers for years to come.”

    The Waterways Council Inc. stated specific provisions would assure $2.5 billion in full federal funding for inland waterway projects with navigation projects given a priority in the bill. The bill also gives the Corps of Engineers $4 billion to address some of its line items, including river projects such as dredging.

    “WCI is grateful that the infrastructure bill has passed and is looking forward to working with Congressional leaders and the administration to implement the 2020 capital investment strategy to significantly modernize the U.S. inland waterways transportation system,” said Tracy Zea, WCI President/CEO.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the bill’s passage, “a major win for America, pointing to “the group’s 25 years of advocating for a major investment in infrastructure. It is the single largest investment in bridges since the construction of the Interstate Highway System and single largest investment made to address climate change in U.S. history,” said Suzanne Clark, president and CEO of the Chamber.

    Clark added that the Chamber still opposes the reconciliation bill. “It would be the height of irresponsibility for Members of Congress to vote on a multi-trillion tax-and-spend bill without even knowing its true cost or even pausing to consider the policy ramifications. The Chamber applauds those members who helped inject some common sense into this process.”

    The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture cited that more than 26% of rural Americans lack broadband access, compared to less than 2% of urban residents, according to the Federal Communications Commission. NASDA had written House members encouraging them to support the bill.

    Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, as chairman of the National Governors Association, also cited the benefits of the legislation. “Governors commend Congress for setting aside partisan differences to pass a bill that works for the American people. States stand ready to immediately put these funds to good use to fix and improve our nation’s infrastructure.”

    The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called the bill “a win for the cattle industry.” NCBA said the group has advocated for modernizing roads and bridges, as well as funding for broadband. The bill also includes language allowing livestock haulers to travel an additional 150 miles to their destinations.

    “Investing in critical infrastructure is consistent with NCBA’s mission to increase producer profitability. The ability for cattle producers to efficiently raise cattle, haul them safely and compete in a fast-paced global marketplace has a direct link to the economic stability of rural communities and a resilient food supply chain,” said Allison Rivera, NCBA’s executive director of government affairs.

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

    Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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