A major proposal important to U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners is undergoing some critical negotiations this week. President Biden submitted to Congress in April a massive $2.3 trillion plan – the American Jobs Act. The measure aims to fund repair and construction of the nation’s transportation system, including roads, bridges, safety improvements, passenger and freight rail upgrades, and locks and dams on inland waterways, as well as restore nature-based infrastructure – our nation’ lands, forests, wetlands, watersheds, and coastal and ocean resources.
The cost of the measure drew some strong resistance from congressional Republicans, prompting Biden to drop his proposal to $1.7 trillion. With negotiations continuing ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, it appears that a $1trillion package is now under consideration.
Despite the seeming give-and-take among lawmakers, reports out of Capitol Hill this week suggest the two sides remain far apart, raising the prospects that Biden will forgo attempts at bipartisanship and use the Democratic majorities in both houses to push through a broader bill using the budget reconciliation process.
However, in the Senate, with its 50-50 split, Democrats’ chances of success would depend on maintaining the caucuses support for the measure along with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris – a prospective face-off between the parties that would likely have long-lasting and negative repercussions on any legislative negotiations going forward.
Farm and rural community groups have generally favored efforts to address U.S. infrastructure issues, emphasizing the need to provide more funding for conservation programs, restore and improve access to markets and boost small-town connectivity with more populated areas that can offer stronger prices for crops and other ag-produced products, as well as broaden the availability of services like health care and education.
The Rebuild Rural Coalition is comprised of more than 260 organizations representing U.S. ag producers, rural businesses, rural communities and rural families. The coalition urges lawmakers to fashion a bipartisan agreement on a strong legislative package that sets aside specific funding for rural communities. The coalition includes among its wide-ranging membership organizations as national in scope as the National Corn Growers Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation; and as regional and industry-specific as the American Cotton Shippers Association and Bongards Premium Cheese.
Rebuild Rural commented last month on Biden’s proposal, encouraging policymakers to leverage existing federal programs, and asserting that now is the time “to invest in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” contending upgrades are “critical to our nation’s future and international competitiveness.”
Underscoring the pressing need for infrastructure upgrades came this week in testimony before a House Natural Resources subcommittee on ongoing drought conditions throughout the Western United States was Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, a close collaborating partner with SfL. The group promotes policies aimed at protecting water for western Agriculture, said this year’s region-wide drought is “a disaster in the making,” he said.
Keppen told the panel that irrigated farms in the Klamath Project, a 220,000-acre, federally designated expanse of land straddling the Oregon-California border, faces “the worst year in the project’s 116-year history, with essentially no water from the Klamath River system.”
He said the federal Central Valley Project in California will receive little to no water, given that the Colorado River Basin is in its 21st year of drought and its reservoirs will end up at their lowest levels since they were initially filled. Furthermore, Keppen said watersheds in the American Southwest are parched, and wildfires are predicted to be at record levels this season.
To help alleviate the disaster the West is facing, he called on lawmakers to move quickly and make investments in improving and building new water supply infrastructure and rebuilding inefficient and antiquated water delivery systems. Keppen’s message has also been advanced by the Western Agriculture and Conservation Coalition (WAAC), whose members include the Environmental Defense Fund, Family Farm Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy. Formed in 2012 to advance collaborative solutions to natural resource issues, WAAC is calling on Congress to invest in multi-beneficial irrigation infrastructure repair and modernization; municipal water efficiency, re-use, recycling and conservation programs; water supply security through watershed restoration and hydraulic function on public and private lands; and 21st century water storage.
SfL joins those calling on lawmakers to “work together to find bipartisan solutions that benefit all of America, including our rural communities.” The need for addressing the nation’s infrastructure shortcomings is significant and immediate.