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Colorado senators tout key provisions in infrastructure bill

Clean water access, broadband improvements and wildfire mitigation among amendments
Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

As the final details in the long-awaited infrastructure package are squared away, Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have pushed for key amendments to help the state, including improving water infrastructure and expanding broadband access.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the bipartisan plan Saturday, but lawmakers faced new problems late into the night Thursday as several amendments remain to be debated. The legislation will need 60 votes, including at least 10 Republicans, to advance to the House.

Bipartisanship has been a key effort in creating the package, Bennet said in an interview Thursday with The Durango Herald. He hopes collaboration across the aisle will continue, as well.

“Sometimes, the American people look at Congress and lose faith in the ability that the parties could ever work together,” Bennet said. “What they're seeing in this bill is a broad bipartisan commitment to do something that’s going to be useful to them in their communities, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or unaffiliated.”

Hickenlooper is no stranger to the need for bipartisan collaboration – he is a member of the original group of senators who negotiated the $1 trillion bipartisan bill.

“We must fix our crumbling infrastructure and embrace our clean energy future,” he said in a news release. “This bipartisan bill shows the world that our democracy still works. It comes in the nick of time as we face droughts, wildfires, mudslides and aging infrastructure across Colorado and the nation.”

Colorado has “serious needs” when it comes to infrastructure, and the package will alleviate some of those, such as land restoration and orphaned well cleanup, Bennet said in an interview.

“Now we’re going to have resources to do that,” he said. “And that’s going to create jobs in rural parts of the country.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates funding for Colorado in a variety of sectors, including $3.7 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs over the next five years.

The package is set to provide $3.5 billion for the Indian Health Service to support sanitation facilities improvements and clean water access expansion in line with the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act that was introduced in July by Bennet and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich.

According to data from the Indian Health Service, nearly half of Native American households do not have access to reliable water sources and clean drinking water.

“Clean drinking water is a fundamental human right and that is foundational to healthy communities,” Bennet said in an interview. “That’s why Sen. Heinrich and I introduced the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act to address this unacceptable disparity.”

The legislation is supported by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Leaders of the Navajo Nation and Southern Ute tribe assisted in drafting the legislation, Bennet said.

“Our country's investment in infrastructure must at a minimum include the funding necessary to provide basic water service to Native Americans,” said Manuel Heart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and of the Ten Tribes Partnership. “The funding provided in this bill is an essential element of the federal trust responsibility to sovereign tribal Nations and communities and a step in the direction of a more racially just and equitable nation.”

Other water infrastructure provisions supported by Bennet and Hickenlooper include $50 million for the Colorado River endangered species recovery and conservation programs, $1 billion for rural water improvements and $300 million for the Colorado Drought Contingency Plan, including $50 million for the Upper Basin.

Hickenlooper assisted in writing the legislation to allocate more than $60 billion to bring high-speed internet to Americans, as well. A minimum of $100 million will be used to expand broadband coverage to 85,000 Coloradans. About 20% of residents will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

After Colorado faced its worst wildfire season last year, the Colorado senators also pushed for wildfire prevention provisions in the package.

Bennet collaborated with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to include forests and grasslands restoration in the legislation, which is based on the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act the two senators previously introduced. The amendment was passed Wednesday night.

The Joint Chiefs program, which was launched by the USDA in 2014, has supported 93 projects nationwide in restoring wildlife habitats and lands, including two projects in Colorado. The provision also includes wildfire risk reduction and water supply protection on public and private lands.

“Our forests and our grasslands are as important to our economy as the Lincoln Tunnel or the Brooklyn Bridge are to New York, but they haven’t received nearly enough investment over the years,” Bennet said Thursday on the Senate floor in support of passing the amendment.

Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.

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