Infrastructure Bill: How will Utah, Mountain West be impacted?
The House passed the much-anticipated $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Friday night, a vast package that will likely impact all 50 states in one way or another. The legislation, which the Senate approved in August, now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.
The package, which includes $ 550 billion in new spending, aims to improve the country’s roads, bridges, railways, water systems and broadband internet. In the West, the bill is presented as a multi-pronged approach to tackling issues specific to the region, such as drought, forest fires and public land management.
While it’s too early to determine the exact scope of these projects, here’s where some of that money is being diverted and how it could take shape in Western states:
Western hydraulic infrastructures
The bill provides more than $ 8 billion for water infrastructure projects in the West, which is suffering from a historic drought.
- It includes $ 1.15 billion for water and groundwater storage and transportation projects like canals or pipelines, and $ 3.2 billion for replacement or rehabilitation of similar projects. An additional $ 1 billion is earmarked for rural water supply projects.
- Water recycling projects to reuse runoff and wastewater will receive $ 1 billion. Meanwhile, $ 250 million will go towards desalination studies and projects, an expensive but growing area of ââresearch.
- In addition, $ 500 million will be used to ensure that the region’s dams are safe and undergoing proper maintenance.
- In addition, $ 300 million will be used to bolster the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to monitor reservoirs, implement conservation and storage projects, and prevent water cuts. additional in the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River.
In Utah, officials are hoping that $ 8 billion will take shape in several ways.
According to Senator Mitt Romney’s office, the Central Utah Project Completion Act, which diverts water from the Colorado River Basin to the Wasatch Front, will receive $ 50 million for municipal water use, mitigation, l hydroelectric power, fish and wildlife and conservation.
The energy administration of the Western region, one of the four electricity marketing administrations within the US Department of Energy, will receive $ 500 million for drought-related deficits, Romney’s office said.
- The emergency watershed protection program will allocate $ 300 million to repair damage to rivers and watersheds resulting from natural disasters, according to the bill.
- In addition, $ 2.5 billion will go to the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, an umbrella fund designed to help water projects on tribal nations, including the Navajo Nation. Romney’s office said $ 214 million will go towards the Navajo water rights settlement in Utah, which will provide running water to the roughly 40% of Navajo nation residents in Utah who lack it.
- Congress has diverted billions to the state revolving funds for drinking water and drinking water, partnerships between the federal government and the states that seek to fund water quality infrastructure projects. Over the next five years, Utah will receive approximately $ 219 million from the two funds.
Forest fire mitigation and land management
Following several devastating wildfires last summer – the Dixie Fire burned an area the size of Rhode Island, spewing smoke across the West Mountain and now ranks second among all fires in California – lawmakers have spent billions on research and fire mitigation.
- The Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service will each receive $ 250 million for planning and conducting prescribed burns. This approach to fire mitigation helps remove dry and accumulated fuels and can help revitalize ecosystems.
- An additional $ 500 million will be allocated to mechanical thinning projects which, like prescribed burns, aim to promote fire-resistant stands. It’s a controversial approach to fire mitigation that environmental groups say is an excuse to increase logging. The bill states that thinning will be done “in an environmentally appropriate manner that maximizes the retention of large trees, depending on the type of forest.”
- In addition, $ 500 million will also be used to âdevelop or improve potential control locationsâ such as a firewall, an artificial area with reduced vegetation that acts as a barrier to stop or slow the spread of fire.
- And $ 500 million will be available in wildfire defense grants to communities at risk, including those in tribal nations, while an additional $ 200 million will be available for post-fire restoration.
- Salaries for federal wildland firefighters are also receiving a $ 600 million increase.
- The bill establishes the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act, which forms a commission to study fire prevention, mitigation, management and rehabilitation projects, while making recommendations to government agencies.
- Lawmakers have also allocated more than $ 350 million for a range of other mitigation efforts, such as surveillance equipment, emergency response strengthening, interagency collaboration, trainings and workshops, and an accord with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use satellites to quickly detect and report fires. .
Although it occupies dozens of pages in the long bill, the scope of public land management extends beyond forest fire mitigation. Here are several ways in which public lands in the West could be affected:
- Lawmakers approved $ 50 million for endangered species recovery programs for the San Juan and Upper Colorado River basins. An additional $ 250 million will be available for the restoration of trails and waterways.
- More than $ 11 billion will be available for the reclamation of abandoned mines. This will translate into no less than $ 20 million in grants for each eligible state or tribal nation.
- A total of $ 5 billion will be spent on orphaned or abandoned oil wells. It includes the establishment of the Restoration of Economic Growth and Recovery of Orphan Wells Act, which obliges the Home Office to plug or remediate orphan wells on federal lands. An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found that about 9 million Americans live within a mile of an orphan well, which releases large amounts of methane.
- The National Parks Service is also getting a share of the $ 1.2 trillion pie. It includes $ 350 million for reducing collisions between wildlife and vehicles, $ 1.4 billion for transportation investments, $ 355 million per year for repair projects and more.
Roads and railroads
Between a possible tunnel in the Teton Pass in Wyoming, a boost to Utah highways, and what the White House says is the biggest federal investment in a passenger rail system since Amtrak’s inception, here is a few ways the package could help western travel infrastructure:
- Over the next five years, Utah will have access to approximately $ 3 billion in road financing. This means the Beehive State is likely to see more road works as the state prepares to repair, maintain and eventually build roads and highways. âUtah has 2,064 miles of bad roads. Travel times are up 7.2% in the state since 2011 and bad roads cost drivers an average of $ 709 per year in repairs, âaccording to Romney’s office.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association estimates that 62 bridges in Utah are structurally deficient. However, nationwide bridge maintenance, construction and repair will now receive $ 40 billion in funding – of which $ 30 billion “will be distributed according to a formula,” Romney’s office said, to states to ensure they have the necessary resources.
- In Wyoming’s famous Teton Pass, avalanches frequently close the road for those looking to work and recharge. The New York Times reports that part of the highway funding could be used to build a tunnel to ensure continued access, regardless of what Mother Nature is up to.
- Lawmakers are targeting $ 35 billion for airport improvement projects, helping with expansions, planning, runway reconstruction, lighting and air navigation. In July, Utah airports received about $ 1.8 million in federal airport improvement program grants.
- Amtrak gets a boost, and the White House says the $ 66 billion investment in passenger railways is the largest since the state-owned company was established in 1971. This will be spread across the board. country, and officials hope the funding “will modernize the northeast corridor, and bring world-class rail service to areas outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic.” This means that the long-awaited high-speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco could be one more step towards reality.
- About $ 7.5 billion will go to a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, $ 5 billion for electric school buses, and $ 6 billion for battery material processing subsidies and manufacturing and recycling subsidies. batteries.
According to the White House, more than 30 million Americans live in areas without broadband infrastructure. The bill’s $ 65 billion investment aims to change that.
- According to Romney’s office, the investment will extend broadband access to unserved and underserved communities in Utah.
- The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program will receive $ 2 billion in funding to expand broadband access to tribal nations nationwide, where internet access has historically been lacking.
More than $ 42 billion in grants will be made available to states for broadband projects, with an additional $ 14 billion allocated to provide a $ 30 monthly voucher to help low-income Americans pay for the service. Internet.