Biden's Infrastructure Plan

For Ag, Rebuilding Roads and Bridges Tied to Energy and Climate Proposals

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Rural America is filled with unsafe, antiquated bridges such as this one in Buchanan County, Iowa. The Biden infrastructure plan would spend $621 billion on road and bridge repairs and upgrades. The bill also deals with waterways and the electric grid. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Matthew Wilde)

OMAHA (DTN) -- President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure package goes beyond roads and bridges to putting the wheels in motion to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in agriculture, as well as increasing federal spending for needs such as broadband and inland waterways.

Among the policies included in the White House infrastructure plan being pitched to Congress are programs to provide "support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies" as part of Biden's plan to make the country's infrastructure more resilient to weather and climate extremes.

The agricultural details were just a small piece in a 25-page summary of the American Jobs Plan. The package focuses on increasing investment in highways, inland waterways and rural broadband. It also calls for extensive federal spending on green energy, including a boost for electric vehicles and a new power transmission grid.

The program stresses the need to draw rural American towns and homes into broadband services. The plan calls for $100 billion that would "bring affordable, reliable high-speed broadband to every American, including the more than 35% of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds."

The White House plan also raises taxes on companies. Pointing to Fortune 500 companies that now pay no federal income taxes, the White House stated the 2017 tax bill dropped the average corporate federal tax paid to 8%. The White House wants to set the corporate tax rate at 28% with a minimum tax of 21% for companies that have shifted their assets and operations overseas. The plan also calls for eliminating other tax breaks for corporations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opened 2021 with a push to get an infrastructure package through Congress before midyear. On Wednesday, the group partially praised the package but criticized the funding strategy.

"We need a big and bold program to modernize our nation's crumbling infrastructure and we applaud the Biden administration for making infrastructure a top priority," said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Chamber. "However, we believe the proposal is dangerously misguided when it comes to how to pay for infrastructure. Properly done, a major investment in infrastructure today is an investment in the future, and like a new home, should be paid for over time -- say 30 years -- by the users who benefit from the investment. We strongly oppose the general tax increases proposed by the administration which will slow the economic recovery and make the U.S. less competitive globally -- the exact opposite of the goals of the infrastructure plan."

Biden's plan aligns with proposed bills pitched by House Democrats on infrastructure and climate, but the tax provisions also will likely strengthen Republican opposition, especially with a 50-50 split in the Senate.

Biofuel groups will be among those watching, as the Biden plan calls for reducing emissions from transportation with a big push for electric vehicles. The plan calls for 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles by 2030. It calls for converting at least 20% of school buses to electric by that time as well. All told, the plan has $174 billion set aside for electrifying the auto fleet.

Emily Skor, president and CEO of Growth Energy -- which early on had supported the Biden team's moves on renewable energy -- said Biden's plan was "disappointing" because the plan "overlooks the urgent need to expand access to low-carbon biofuels, like plant-based ethanol." Skor said the Biden bill failed to promote biofuels. She pointed to studies showing biofuels can help move the county to a net-zero future.

"Biofuels can help us reduce emissions today, and the innovations being driven by our industry will continue to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels," Skor said. She also said Growth Energy would work with the administration and Congress "to ensure that biofuels have a leading role in helping our nation upgrade its infrastructure and address climate change."

Emphasizing rural America and tribal communities, the White House highlighted broadband and other infrastructure, but also pointed to the importance of "positioning the U.S. agricultural sector to lead in the shift to net-zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers."

The White House called for a new "Rural Partnership Program" that would be $5 billion for local economic development.

The broadband plan highlights networks that would be tied to local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives, which raised concern from at least some groups who represent private providers. The plan would "promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge."

Biden's plan first highlights fixing highways, rebuilding bridges, upgrading ports, airports and the transit system. The plan "will modernize" 20,000 miles of highways, roads and city streets. The plan states it will "fix the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction" as well as 10,000 other smaller bridges. Total transportation spending would increase $621 billion by 2030.

The White House notes as many as 173,000 miles of roads and highways are in poor condition, suggesting the president's infrastructure investment may only address about 12% of the road challenges. The plan also points out 45,000 bridges are in poor condition, so the infrastructure plan would deal with about one-fifth of the need.

Brian Kuehl, a principal at K-Coe Isom and executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, said agriculture and rural America need the infrastructure improvements in the plan.

"Restoring America's infrastructure system provides a unique opportunity to spur economic growth in America's heartland. Investing in roads, bridges, waterways, locks, ports and rural broadband means ag products move more quickly and efficiently, reaching consumers at home and abroad," Kuehl said. "Too often, ag jobs are thought of as only on the farm, while in truth, they're at grain terminals, on freight lines and all across America's highways and waterways. Rural America needs big, bold initiatives like this to grow and prosper. We call on Congress to find a bipartisan path to making major infrastructure investments in American agriculture and rural infrastructure."

Some of the funds would be spread to upgrade ports, waterways and airports. The plan would invest an additional $17 billion in the inland waterways, coastal ports and land ports of entry. The White House highlighted these investments will help expand shipping, a challenge that agriculture has been facing head-on at the moment because of port congestion. The plan also would spend $25 billion to help airports upgrade and renovate terminals.

The White House states the need to make infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events. That would lead to investment of $100 billion in new power transmission lines that would create "hundreds of thousands" of jobs for people laying lines. Tax credits would also be set up to expand clean-energy generation.

Highlighting that land resources need to be protected, the plan points out the need to protect America from wildfires, sea-level rise, hurricanes and other extreme-weather events. The White House stated the need for "support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies."

With money for energy efficiency, Biden's plan would retrofit buildings for better energy efficiency, dealing with both commercial buildings -- schools, government buildings and veteran hospitals -- as well as private homes. Addressing drinking water, the plan calls for eliminating lead pipes and service lines in drinking systems.

Biden also wants to spend $10 billion on a Civilian Climate Corps that would work on conservation projects for public lands and work with communities on local projects. The White House also highlights job investment in rural America with more emphasis on manufacturing clean-energy technology for the federal government and private industry.

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Chris Clayton