Bennet and Hickenlooper do Colorado proud in infrastructure bill

WASHINGTON D.C. – Thanks to multiple initiatives led by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Colorado U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper’s role in writing the text of the bill, priorities important to Coloradans are reflected throughout the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

The pandemic revealed many disparities, including the lack of access to broadband in rural areas of the San Luis Valley, impacting students learning remotely from home and businesses needing to appeal to customers concerned about the virus.

The bill, crafted by a bi-partisan group of 22 senators, was initially passed by the U.S. Senate in August with a strong bi-partisan vote of 69 to 30 and then sent to the House, where it was negotiated for months before passing last Friday, also in a bi-partisan vote. The IIJA is now headed to President Biden’s desk where it will be signed into law.

First up, the infrastructure bill includes the largest ever single federal broadband investment and is consistent with Bennet’s bi-partisan BRIDGE Act that he introduced with U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) this year.

Almost since he took office, Senator Bennet has been educating Senate colleagues on western water issues, specifically highlighting the need to restore the watersheds that feed the rivers agricultural and metropolitan communities rely upon to survive.

The IIJA invests $300 million over five years for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) to address an estimated backlog of $200 million. Bennet has continued to push for increased EWP funding to help Colorado communities recover from wildfires, and earlier this year, Bennet and Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the MATCH Act to remove hurdles to securing funding through the EWP and help communities act quickly to mitigate damage while protecting their watersheds and infrastructure.

The Carbon Capture Improvement Act, legislation Bennet and Portman introduced earlier this year, will make it easier for power plants and industrial facilities to finance the purchase and installation of carbon capture, utilization, and storage equipment, as well as direct air capture projects through the use of tax-exempt private activity bonds.

Also included, the Bennet-Hoeven amendment formally authorizes the United States Department of Agriculture’s Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative, allowing recovery and restoration efforts following a wildfire to transcend borders between private and federal land – a vital, common sense provision for those landowners whose property is in the wildland/urban interface.

The bill provides robust funding for water infrastructure for Tribal communities, a crucial provision for tribes like the Ute Mountain Ute tribe experiencing significant challenges with springs drying up and the Mancos River barely a trickle. The funding is consistent with Bennet’s Tribal Access to Clean Water Act with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Bennet is known for saying “western infrastructure is water infrastructure.” The IIJA provides robust funding for western water infrastructure, a key consideration for agricultural communities in the San Luis Valley where water scarcity is an ongoing challenge. In June, Bennet joined his colleagues in calling on Senate leadership to prioritize funding for natural infrastructure restoration, resilience, and reclamation, including major investments in water infrastructure. Bennet and his colleagues also urged the Biden Administration to include western water priorities in their infrastructure proposal.

Bennet and Portman led the initiative for the Automatic Relief for Taxpayers Affected by Major Disasters and Critical Events Act that empowers the Secretary of Treasure to extend the tax filing deadline for all taxpayers affected by federally declared disasters, national emergencies, and terrorist or military action.

The IIJA commits $4.7 billion to plug, remediate, and reclaim orphaned wells on Federal, State, and Tribal lands, consistent with provisions in Bennet’s Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act introduced earlier this year. Reducing methane emissions will protect our climate, restore wildlife habitat, and create good-paying jobs.

Also reflected in the bill, Bennet’s Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act and the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act to protect the energy grid from cyber-attacks.

The bill includes an extension of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program through 2023. SRS supports rural counties in areas where significant acreage is devoted to federal Forest Service land through funding generated by grazing, timber production and special use permits. In February, Bennet introduced legislation to reauthorize the program.

Senator Hickenlooper’s provision authorizes the Department of Transportation to return $28.9 million, plus interest, for a deposit that the Regional Transportation District made to secure a federal loan to redevelop Denver’s Union Station. Senator Bennet supported the provision.

Senator Hickenlooper’s RECHARGE Act will make driving an electric vehicle more affordable by having states review utility rates for EV charging.

Transportation safety is an ongoing issue and a provision, written by Hickenlooper, creates a national standard to prevent marijuana-impaired driving, requiring the federal government to recommend ways for researchers to access marijuana samples and study how marijuana impairs driving.

The IIJA is predicted to create “millions of good paying jobs” and was scored by the Congressional Budget Office to cost $286 billion over the course of five years.