In what appears to be the Trump administration’s first White House meeting with rural groups, a coalition organized by the Farm Credit Council met with two National Economic Council members and two Agriculture Department officials Thursday afternoon to discuss rural infrastructure needs, Farm Credit Council CEO Todd Van Hoose said in an interview late Thursday.
Other groups represented at the meeting were the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the National Rural Water Association and the Rural Broadband Association, Farm Credit said in a news release.
Van Hoose said he did not have permission to make the officials’ names public.
The meeting followed a letter that more than 200 rural groups sent President Donald Trump on Feb. 22 encouraging him to focus on infrastructure.
The meeting comes as the Trump administration is trying to develop plans to invest up to $1 trillion over 10 years on infrastructure projects around the country. Those plans, however, haven’t detailed how such investment will be paid, and the congressional committees that focus on infrastructure are just beginning to develop legislation as well.
Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its quadrennial assessment of infrastructure this week that highlighted the country has a $2 trillion investment gap over 10 years and gave the country overall a “D” grade in several key infrastructure categories, including highways, airports, public transit, inland waterways, drinking water, sewage treatment, energy, schools, hazardous waste and levees. Ports and bridge infrastructure scored C-plus grades.
The ASCE report card had several recommendations for upgrading infrastructure. That included ensuring dedicated funds for local, state and federal programs are adequately funded through user fees and those funds are not taken to offset other budget problems. Further, the federal 18.4 cent tax for gasoline and 24.4 cent tax on diesel should both be increased by at least 25 cents a gallon and tied to rates of inflation. (http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/…)
Regarding the White House meeting, Van Hoose said in an interview that he came away from the meeting “impressed” by the officials’ grasp of rural infrastructure needs. The White House staff had “already thought through” how rural broadband needs are different from urban needs, he said, and could even talk about the number of rural water systems that are not up to a safe drinking standard.
The officials and the rural leaders also discussed transportation needs, how to get crops off the farm, and the need for improvements to surface transportation, rails, locks and dams and ports, Van Hoose said.
The officials did not discuss a specific piece of legislation or how the White House would propose to pay for the infrastructure improvements, Van Hoose said.
“We didn’t get into that kind of detail,” he said.
The administration officials “are looking at this in a couple different ways,” Van Hoose said, focusing on projects and how regulations can be reduced to speed up the projects, things that could be done without legislation.
Farm Credit’s role at the meeting was one of “convener,” Van Hoose said, and the organization, which represents the Farm Credit System institutions in Washington, does not have a list of regulations that should be reduced.
“This was the first of many meetings to come,” Van Hoose said. “They are very focused on rural down there.”
In a news release, Van Hoose said, “We are grateful that the White House is exploring the unique infrastructure needs of U.S. agriculture and rural communities.”
“Rural communities rely on clean water, affordable power and broadband internet to attract new jobs and provide a good quality of life,” he said. “Our agricultural competitiveness requires upgrades in transportation infrastructure to get supplies to farmers and to move farm products to markets around the U.S. and overseas.
“This coalition of more than 200 organizations came together because the needs of rural America are great and differ from urban projects. We look forward to working together with the Trump administration and Congress on behalf of rural communities and agriculture.”
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