State leaders discuss implementation of infrastructure funds
President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) on Nov. 15, 2021, which included a $1.2 trillion dollar package, with $550 billion in new spending, as well as increases for existing federal infrastructure programs. IIJA covers areas of energy, power and water infrastructure, broadband internet and more.
On May 17, leaders representing Wyoming, Oklahoma and Oregon met to discuss their perspectives on infrastructure implementation within their states during the 2022 Western Prosperity Roundtable Forum.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s Senior Policy Advisor Rob Creager stated this funding for Wyoming is crucial, as the state has an immense amount of energy resources.
“Wyoming is known as the energy state – we have every form of energy you could think of,” he said. “One thing we are really focused on in Wyoming is the energy projects within this bill.”
Leading the way
Creager mentioned energy projects within IIJA are competitive. Because of this, states need to work together for a common goal.
Wyoming signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Colorado, Utah and New Mexico on Feb. 24 to develop a regional clean hydrogen hub, said Creager.
“The hope for this is to get one of these hydrogen hubs in the West, because looking at our vast resources of natural gas and renewables, the West is leading the charge on this transition and doing a great job at it, so we are focused on those as well as carbon capture,” he said.
Creager said Wyoming has the largest coal reserves in all of North America, but throughout the past decade, coal has “seen its troubles.”
“We are hopeful we can get some of these carbon capture dollars to come to Wyoming so we can keep our coal fire plants alive a little longer,” he said.
“So far, it’s going well, it’s a lot to get our hands around,” he added. “We are leading the charge in the West and trying to get this done.”
Part of the IIJA funding is going towards National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. Wyoming is behind many other states when it comes to developing infrastructure for electric vehicles, said Creager.
According to The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) website, “WYDOT was allocated $3.9 million in 2022 and expects $5 million each year for the next four years for a total of $23.96 million for electrical vehicle infrastructure over five years.”
Creager said a stipulation with this funding is electrical vehicle charging stations need to be located every 50 miles throughout U.S. states.
“This is going to be very difficult for the state of Wyoming,” he said.
Creager noted many Wyoming towns are farther than 50 miles away, with nothing in between them.
“I think if we can work with them to recognize this in the West and rural states, the 50 mile requirement will hopefully be waved to make sure we are getting these corridors built out,” he said. “It comes back to communication.”
Creager mentioned maintaining and improving water infrastructure is crucial for the state of Wyoming. In order to avoid irrigation canal and dam collapses, the structures must be maintained.
“On the agriculture front, water is a big deal for Wyoming,” he said. “We are trying to work with locals to have their matching dollars and our matching dollars to create a revolving fund so we don’t have to continue to come back to Congress and get more money.”
Wyoming is focused on irrigation infrastructure possibilities within IIJA and studying aquifers to measure water levels, Creager said. Some areas of the state have never been studied, but IIJA may provide an opportunity to do this.
This will assist with “planning for the future to be prepared for what may come for farmers and ranchers across the state,” he said.
Creager mentioned the importance of connecting rural Wyoming to the rest of the world through broadband technology.
“If you can go to the most rural parts of Wyoming and connect to the internet and get on a meeting with someone in New York, that’s huge,” he said.
He said a concern of Gov. Gordon’s is after the government provides money to providers, they will use the money to implement the broadband technology, but then 10 to 15 years down the road, they may not maintain and update the technology. In order to avoid this, there will be stipulations provided in contracts with providers explaining providers will maintain the technology for a certain number of years moving forward.
“It’s tough – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but if we are building new, we need to have plans in place to maintain this long term,” he said.
Although utilizing funding for infrastructure projects won’t be easy, he said it’s an opportunity Wyoming can’t turn down.
“The opportunities in this bill are going to spur economic development in Wyoming and the West for decades to come,” Creager said.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.