Bob Casey has gone to bat for the new infrastructure law, touting the benefits he expects it will create in his home state.
“I think this is a remarkably significant opportunity for Southwestern Pennsylvania and, in particular, for counties that have not had enough infrastructure investment for a long time. And it will be a great benefit to the state overall.”
Casey, a Democratic U.S. senator, discussed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act during an interview with the Observer-Reporter on Thursday morning. The act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in November.
That law provides $550 billion of federal investment to address a lengthy list of needs. They include improving roads, bridges and rails; expanding access to high-speed internet and clean drinking water; providing well-paying jobs; enhancing the environment; and investing in communities, some of which have been forsaken over time.
“We’re looking at five years (through the act),” Casey said. “This is an investment in the state and jobs. I’m not sure how many jobs, but thousands and hopefully tens of thousands.”
The three-term senator from Scranton is pushing for employment to be family-sustaining. “We want to create good-paying jobs, a lot of them union jobs. The loss or diminishment of union jobs really hurts communities. Too often with job creation, a company opens and has jobs, but they’re low-paying.”
Casey said the infrastructure law “is a continuation” of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Both acts, he pointed out, “are investments in communities and people that we have not seen in a long while.”
Casey focused on Washington, Greene and Fayette counties – and other rural areas of Pennsylvania – during the half-hour telephone call. Agriculture is a major industry in the state, which has an estimated 52,000 farms and 7.3 million acres of farmland.
Of 67 counties here, 48 are categorized as rural by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
“We live in a very, very rural state,” he said. “Because of this infrastructure law, I believe rural Pennsylvania will benefit more than suburban or urban counties.”
Casey said “more than $170 million in direct money will go to Washington, Fayette and Greene counties and local communities.”
Broadband internet is a much-discussed issue across Pennsylvania – and the United States, actually. More than 30 million people nationwide, according to estimates, reside in areas lacking broadband infrastructure that can provide minimally efficient speeds.
As a result of the infrastructure law, $65 billion is being devoted to broadband nationwide. Pennsylvania, the senator said, “will get at least” $100 million for broadband to provide access to 390,000 people who lack access.
“That’s a really good start, and it’s money you can’t get from the state level.”
High-speed access, Casey said, “is one of the issues we’ve been talking about for years. At the federal level, there have been some good investments. The (Federal Communications Commission) has had some dollars available.
“But it’s not necessarily a lack of investments. Frankly, it’s not enough investments. Not enough deployment.”
That, he said, is due in part to the reluctance of some broadband companies to go into areas they don’t consider to be cost-effective. That can leave rural locations, especially, underserved or without service.
“Kids need high-speed internet to do homework. Small businesses need it and farmers need it to grow crops and do necessary work. This larger-measure law will help to better connect rural communities in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, and the commonwealth as well.
“High-speed internet is like electricity – you can’t exist without it. The solution is big money, and that’s why this investment will go a long way.”
Funding through the infrastructure law will be devoted to other needs. Prominent among them is environmentally related issues, to which $21 billion will go toward clean-up of Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaiming abandoned mines and sealing oil and gas wells that have been orphaned or abandoned in the U.S.
Pennsylvania will likely get a fair share of that money, for it has a profound number of toxic sites.
Casey extolled the virtues of this law and is eager to see it in action.
“We need to continue to make investments in communities. We’ve got more to do.”