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INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS: Plenty of bridges need updating or replacing to meet modern demands all over the country.

Environmental accusations about infrastructure plan ‘over the top’

Meanwhile, ag groups applaud long-overdue infrastructure aid for rural America.

Enough emails have flowed into my inbox from Friends of the Earth to plaster my office walls. Don’t worry, most see the delete button. The only ones I print are so preposterous that I can’t resist telling others about them. The recent missive from Friends of the Earth after the Trump administration released its plan to address infrastructure issues tops the list of the most one-sided, slanted preposterous accusations yet.

Decide for yourself. According to the release: “The plan is nothing more than a scam to open up even more of our public lands to ‘Big Oil.’ It could even allow pipelines to cross our National Parks.

“Trump isn’t trying to improve our infrastructure. He’s just trying to let his corporate cronies sidestep environmental protections, public health and worker safety. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry could reap huge benefits.”

In four separate places, the email includes some version of this message in big, green print: “Tell your Senators: Stop Trump’s infrastructure scam.”

As in all Friends of the Earth emails, there is a yellow “donate” button at the top left of the screen.

Different perspectives
USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue praises the infrastructure plan, especially its emphasis on investment in rural America. The plan calls for 25% of new federal funds to be dedicated to rural infrastructure needs as prioritized by state and local leaders.

“Our Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which President Trump created on my first day as secretary of agriculture, identified infrastructure, and specifically access to high-speed internet, as a key area where rural America must improve,” Perdue says. “I have heard from people in the heartland, and the overwhelming view is that this is just the type of investment they are looking for to help create jobs, improve education, improve quality of life and increase overall prosperity.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, says the $50 billion for rural America spread over the next 10 years would help “rebuild America’s long-neglected infrastructure.”

“We are encouraged that the administration is acknowledging the need for significant investment in rural infrastructure,” Johnson says. “With over $3.6 trillion required to overcome decades of deferred maintenance, our nation’s roads, bridges, rails, locks and dams, water and waste systems, and rural broadband are in desperate need of robust funding.”

Long view
Environmentalists charge that the plan would allow many infrastructure projects to sidestep key analyses of their adverse health and environmental impacts. Some also claim the plan would eliminate requirements that projects comply with the Clean Air Act.

Time will tell if those accusations are true. What is true, which we’ve seen with our own eyes, is that locks and dams on major rivers work well when upgraded and cared for, but not so well when allowed to deteriorate. Studies indicate many need repairs.

It’s also true that sulfur levels in the air have decreased dramatically since 2001, thanks to the Clean Air Act. Farmers are now considering adding commercial sulfur. That’s perhaps as it should be, but it flies in the face of environmental charges that companies tend to ignore such laws.

Rural infrastructure has been neglected because costs involved in repairing and maintaining it are immense. It appears this plan is a positive step toward ending neglect.

Hopefully lawmakers will see beyond the rhetoric and address key infrastructure issues in rural America.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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