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Biden to visit Iowa ethanol plant as officials hit road to tout rural aid efforts

Promoting rural benefits of infrastructure spending

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was in Colorado Monday as part of an administration initiative to persuade rural voters of the benefits of infrastructure spending to their communities.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was in Colorado Monday as part of an administration initiative to persuade rural voters of the benefits of infrastructure spending to their communities. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Joe Biden will speak at an Iowa ethanol plant Tuesday as part of the White House pitch that his administration is delivering tangible results for rural America.

Biden’s trip comes a day after the White House announced that cabinet members and senior administration officials will fan out across the U.S. in April to tout the benefits of a 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law and the availability of billions of dollars for the nation’s small towns, tribal and local governments, and community organizations.

The president will visit the POET bioprocessing plant near Menlo, Iowa. Biden is under pressure from the ethanol industry to reinstate a Trump administration policy that allowed the sale of E15, a 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline mix, from June through September.

A federal appeals court in 2021 ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration had exceeded its authority in interpreting federal law as allowing air quality waivers for gasoline with at least 10 percent ethanol. The agency used that interpretation to approve essentially year-round sales for the higher blend. Sales of gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol had been banned for most of the summer months because of concerns that it would contribute to smog.

A recent story by Reuters said the Biden administration is considering approving summer sales of E15 as one of several steps it may take in a bid to lower prices at the pump.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu held a video press conference Monday to outline what the administration calls a rural infrastructure tour, where officials will make announcements of $2 billion in awards and boost awareness of the law that provides $550 billion in new funding.

The White House also issued what it called a Rural Playbook, with fact sheets and details from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, EPA and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior and Transportation on available infrastructure funding.

Landrieu said the departments have identified more than 100 programs with a total of approximately $407 billion under the infrastructure law where agencies have the flexibility to reduce or waive requirements for matching funds for underserved communities.

He said administration officials would be in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Washington and West Virginia this week.

Haaland was in Colorado while Vilsack was quarantined at home in Iowa after testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.

Vilsack said the tour “will basically send a very strong message to rural Americans that they are not being left out of this historic bill.  In fact, investments are being made to reflect the value and importance of rural places and people.”

He said that infrastructure improvements will translate to change that improves roads so paramedics can reach people in need, rebuilds locks and dams on key rivers to speed agricultural shipments to markets, and provides high-speed rural broadband to expand access to telemedicine.

Haaland, who got a briefing on Colorado’s fire season forecast with Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on Monday, said infrastructure funding in rural forest communities would help combat wildfires, restore wildlife habitats and watersheds, help communities prepare for extreme weather events and cope with drought.

Haaland also said funding could help rural areas deal with legacy pollution, reclaim abandoned mines and cap abandoned oil and gas wells to curb methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.

She said a separate America the Beautiful challenge program also will use federal and private funds to invest in voluntary and locally led conservation efforts. The first stage of the $1 billion five-year program will take requests for proposals  in May and make awards in November. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will manage the program, which has a federal commitment of $440 million over five years. 

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