November 30, 2021

Infrastructure Reform Requires Real Progress

Guest Opinion
Oct. 30, 2021

Michigan is failing. On the American Society of Civil Engineers' Report Card for America's Infrastructure, our state has a D+ rating. That’s not something to brag about.

News from Lansing that a budget deal is expected to be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is great news for her promise to fix our roads and bridges. It’s clear that we must reinvest in our infrastructure to protect the things we treasure like healthy communities and our land, water, and air. In Michigan, we’re hopeful that some of our elected officials have put forward legislation like the WATER (Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability) Act (H.R. 1352 and S. 916) that will invest in our country’s water infrastructure while creating good-paying jobs and guaranteeing world-class infrastructure to last for generations.

If we want to solve problems like our failing infrastructure, we’ve got to address them head-on­­. Federal, state, and local governments have a responsibility to act boldly, otherwise, rural America will fall further behind. It’s time for our state to recognize the challenges rural communities face and confront them by implementing solutions, which don’t rely on the same old playbook.

Having poor infrastructure affects all rural Michiganders, especially families struggling to make ends meet; wear and tear on tires due to the shape of our roads on average costs $650 a year, and Michigan households have some of the highest energy rates in the country. That’s money that could go towards food or books for school.

We can and should pursue policies that provide long-term savings, and that Michiganders can noticeably benefit from. This view is shared by Gov. Whitmer who has announced plans for government buildings to run completely on renewables. Similarly, her administration and the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force’s plan to guarantee energy resilience outlines a thoughtful transition from our outdated pipeline infrastructure. It will protect households from outrageous price fluctuations and invest in job-creating renewable energy. This sets an example of what we can do to protect ourselves and makes renewable energy more viable and even more affordable. 

Poor infrastructure is also a health and safety issue. Our water infrastructure needs to be updated, or in some cases, it must be built from the ground up because it is non-existent. We must ensure we all have access to safe, affordable drinking water and sanitation. We must also invest in infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather events that now occur with an ever-increasing frequency.

To ensure access to safe, affordable drinking water and sanitation for all we need dedicated funding for water infrastructure. Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s WATER (Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability) Act of 2021 would increase the amount rural, small municipalities and tribal governments receive in technical assistance for their water systems from $25 million to $175 million per year. That’s a dramatic improvement, which will safeguard the health and safety of millions of people across the state.

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan would upgrade our roads, transit, drinking water systems, and more while getting people back to work in Michigan and across the country. Having better transportation is essential for making local travel more accessible for rural folks so we can get to the doctor or our job with greater ease. Additionally, his plan funds rural energy cooperatives and broadband expansion which will be critical in creating economic opportunity and lowering our outrageous energy costs. 

Our U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow plays a primary role in passing the next version of the Farm Bill. The next Farm Bill must include adequate funding for farmers to deal with the climate crisis through technical support for things like soil regeneration, more money for conservation programs, expanding opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers, and delivering broadband to underserved communities so they can adopt smart technologies that increase energy efficiency. Farmers are at the front line of the climate crisis, and they need resources and technical assistance to deal with these constraints.

As our country deals with the job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, our cities and towns require attention to improve long-neglected infrastructure. “Business as usual” is no longer sufficient to deal with the climate crisis, wage stagnation, and outdated energy and water systems. The fight for protecting the Great Lakes and getting infrastructure reform is crucial to preserving the rural way of life and building back better. 

Levi Teitel serves as the rural communications coordinator for Progress Michigan, a nonprofit communications advocacy and government watchdog group. Their website is progressmichigan.org, and you can read more about a progressive vision for rural communities at ruralpolicyaction.us. 

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