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Congress can put rural communities back to work with smart infrastructure investments


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy of epic proportions for America. In addition to killing more than 600,000 people, the pandemic has disrupted our economy and closed countless small businesses. While an economic rebound is now underway, millions of Americans still struggle to find work because of the pandemic.

It is encouraging that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The national economy is finally starting to rebound, although not all American workers have benefited from it yet. And recovery is not inevitable everywhere: For years, rural communities across the country have faced sluggish economic growth, stagnant job creation and high poverty rates.

How can we ensure that the US economic recovery benefits not only Wall Street, but also Main Street in small towns and cities alike? And that workers in rural West Virginia, Arizona and beyond have access to good-paying, good-quality jobs they can be proud of?

The US jobs plan proposed by the Biden administration offers a historic opportunity to do so.

The U.S. Jobs Plan laid out a bold plan to boost economic recovery while tackling the global climate crisis that plagues Americans every day, recent scorching temperatures in the Pacific Northwest that have killed hundreds of people to record flooding in Detroit who shut down a key freeway for days. Driven by a $ 2 trillion investment in the country’s infrastructure and workforce, the U.S. jobs plan proposes investments in renewable energy, transmission networks, energy efficiency and restoration trees that can empower rural America by creating millions of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity – all while helping tackle the climate emergency.

New analysis from the World Resources Institute shows that a large influx of federal investment in a new climate economy can be a win-win for rural communities. Research shows that if the federal government invested $ 275 billion over five years, of which nearly $ 75 billion would go to rural counties, it could support 1.3 million years of rural employment during that time. which means 260,000 rural jobs maintained for at least five years.

Rural counties in California, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri and Wyoming are expected to gain the most in terms of job creation over the next five years. Workers in rural areas of the country will also see new opportunities, from manufacturing wind turbines in Colorado to weatherizing homes in South Carolina to restoring trees on federal and non-federal lands in South Carolina. Ohio and Utah.

For every million dollars invested in rural communities, $ 1.5 million in value is generated in rural economies, including new local tax revenues that can fund improvements to schools, roads, bridges and services. emergency. Almost half of the profits would go to economically disadvantaged rural counties. With more than 85 percent of persistent poverty counties designated as rural, federal investments that meet the needs of those counties can lead to more equitable rural development.

Not only do jobs like these pave the way for a better future, but they can also help improve the lives of people today. For example, it is estimated that the power outage in Texas last February cost the state between $ 80 billion and $ 130 billion – many rural Texas towns have been particularly hard hit and have been without power for days at a time. temperatures below the freezing point. Investing in high voltage transmission would create jobs and help integrate clean energy resources into the power grid, which in turn would improve reliability and resilience.

Meanwhile, environmental remediation of abandoned coal mines and orphaned oil and gas wells can create economic opportunities for rural communities that have historically been dependent on the fossil fuel industry, but are now face challenges as the transition to a clean economy accelerates, while eliminating air and water pollution.

These are opportunities that rural Americans want. In a recent national poll, 54% of rural voters said taking action on climate change was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important, with high levels of support for policies that reduce pollution from power plants, encourage agricultural practices climate friendly and strengthen rural communities against extreme weather events. Despite their support for climate action, however, rural voters also report feeling isolated from the current conversation on climate policy and believe that climate policies will not benefit rural areas.

This must change. Federal policymakers need to ensure that rural voices are included in US climate policy discussions. Not only do rural voters and states wield significant influence over national election results, rural America is critical to the success of American climate policy. Farmers, ranchers, and forest owners manage large segments of American land that offer enormous potential for sequestering carbon in trees and harvesting renewable energy. Rural areas are crucial for clean energy development: According to the American Clean Power Association, 99% of all onshore wind capacity in the country is located in rural areas, as is the majority of large-scale solar capacity. .

So how do you build this new economy? Federal investments must go hand in hand with complementary policies that ensure that these investments lead to equitable and sustainable climate policies. These include adequate investments in training and workforce development for rural communities, ranging from capacity building within the existing workforce development system, to targeting job opportunities. workforce development in economically disadvantaged rural communities, to career development programs starting in high school. Federal investments should also come with stringent labor standards, including an enforced wage guarantee, “local hire” guidelines, and preference given to laid-off fossil fuel workers in the region.

Under the outline of the U.S. Jobs Plan, Congress has a great opportunity to rebuild better from COVID-19, but only if it invests in climate-smart arrangements that put rural Americans to work.

Dan Lashof is the director of World Resources, USA. Follow him on Twitter: @DLashof

Devashree Saha is a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, USA. Follow her on Twitter: @Devashree_Saha

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