The United States Senate passed a major bipartisan infrastructure bill by a 69-30 vote Aug. 10, paving the way for the legislation to become law. Agricultural organizations have largely lauded the move, although they see the bill as imperfect.
“Probably the last five or six presidential administrations have all pledged to increase infrastructure funding,” says Iowa State University Extension ag economist Chad Hart. “This is arguably a well-needed shot in the arm for agriculture. It’s just too bad it didn’t happen 20 years ago when it would have been cheaper.”
None of that means this bill, which must still be approved by the House of Representatives, is perfect. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association issued a press release after the bill was passed by the Senate saying it was a missed opportunity — while it includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging, it did not provide specific funding for biofuels.
Those biofuels could help reduce carbon emissions now, while most vehicles on the road run on liquid fuel, according to Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. He adds that his organization will continue to push for amendments in the House that might benefit biofuels.
Other agricultural organizations such as the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union issued press releases stating their support for the bill, which is officially dubbed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“AFBF appreciates the Senate for working together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” says President Zippy Duvall. “The pressing infrastructure issues facing our nation are too important to ignore, particularly in rural communities where modernization is desperately needed. 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.”
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says his group was “pleased with the passage” of the bill, specifically the $110 billion in funding for roads and bridges and the $17 billion for ports and waterways. The bill provides a total of $548 billion in additional spending, and Steenhoek says that when combined with existing sources of funding, it amounts to $944 billion in infrastructure spending over the next five years.
There is also money in the bill for broadband expansion, among other things, and Hart says that could be helpful for agriculture and rural areas. He says the bottom line is the United States spent a huge amount of money building infrastructure during the 1930s and followed that up with spending during the 1950s and 1960s, but it has relied on that aging infrastructure a great deal since then.
“It’s like owning a house,” he says. “You spend money up front to build it and then you let that carry you (for some years). At some point you have to spend money on upkeep. We’ve been riding on that investment (of earlier eras) for a long time.”
Hart says there are legitimate concerns about how to pay for this infrastructure investment, and Congress couldn’t agree on either higher taxes or cuts in other parts of the budget to deal with that issue.