“A blue-collar plan to rebuild”: Biden signs an infrastructure package

President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bipartisan infrastructure package that includes funding to expand broadband, plug orphan oil and gas wells, and clean up abandoned mines, among other investments.

The $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure investment and jobs law has been touted as the biggest infrastructure investment since the New Deal. During the signing ceremony, Biden said “we are taking a monumental step forward to build back better” and praised the bipartisan effort to push through the package. He further described the law as a “blue collar plan to rebuild America”.

“My message to the American people is this: America is on the move again and your life will change for the better,” he said, highlighting funding to replace lead water and service lines. and expanding access to affordable high-speed Internet.

Biden said he would now visit areas like a structurally unsafe bridge in New Hampshire and unionized workers in Detroit who build electric vehicles.

The package will bring $ 3.7 billion to New Mexico for infrastructure investments, primarily in highway projects. It also includes funding for water supply projects currently underway, including the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Supply Project.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was one of the governors who advocated for the bill. She attended the signing ceremony and said the law provides funding for much-needed improvements while creating jobs in communities across the country.

As politicians celebrate the signing of this bill, the budget watchdog Taxpayers for common sense argued that the impact of the package is overestimated because only about half of the $ 1.2 trillion in funding goes to new projects. Many of the projects included in the bill would have happened without the legislation, the group said.

Related: NM to secure billions of dollars in infrastructure funding

Orphan oil and gas wells

US Senator Ben Ray Luján attended the signing ceremony as several pieces of legislation he championed were included in the final bill. This includes the REGROW Act, which provides funding for cleaning up orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells. Luján co-sponsored the legislation with Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, a state that also has a large number of orphan wells.

Related: Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

These wells which no longer have an operator can be both an environmental and health problem.

Lujan said NM Policy Report about a visit he made to a well site in southeastern New Mexico where he saw oil build up on the ground and in a bucket. He said there were cow hoof prints in the mud and it looked like the cattle had drunk the contaminated water. Luján said this impacts the beef produced in the region, which is then consumed by humans, and also impacts aquifers and the landscape.

Luján said this was an important step, but that more work is needed to ensure that the oil and gas wells currently in operation are not ultimately abandoned. This includes a bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat from New Mexico, that would create inactive well charges and increase bond requirements.

Broadband

Biden said no parent will ever have to sit in a parking lot again so their child can access the internet for homework.

The infrastructure package will provide approximately $ 750 million for the expansion of broadband service in New Mexico. This money will be available both to expand broadband infrastructure in currently unserved areas and to make it more affordable. Luján said the goal is to make the internet accessible to as many New Mexicans as possible and “if we’re innovative in New Mexico, there’s no reason we can be north of 98% of families. “.

Luján said the next step for the state would be to work with local leaders “in every corner of the state” to develop a plan that will be submitted to the US Department of Commerce. Once this plan is approved, New Mexico will be able to access a state grant program available through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop the program.

Abandoned mines

The package also includes $ 3 billion to repair more than 500,000 abandoned mines across the country, including New Mexico.

One of the sponsors of this legislation was US Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico.

“We applaud the inclusion of a dedicated program to address the issue of abandoned mines and thank Congress and the President for working together on behalf of communities affected by mining,” said Lauren Pagel, director of policy Earthworks, in a press release following the signing ceremony. “Too many American communities live with it and pay for the pollution left by mining companies. This investment is an essential first step in holding them accountable for their pollution, while providing the jobs needed by transforming landscapes marked by hard rock mining.

Elizabeth J. Harless