This commentary is from Sarah Waring, State Director of the US Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Earth Day and Green Up Day are perfect opportunities to reflect on Vermont’s environmental history and future. The Clean Water Act (Law 64), the Universal Composting Act (Law 48) and the recent Environmental Justice Act (S.148) all reflect the focus on shared natural resources that Vermonters adopt.
It’s also fitting that these holidays – when we pick up litter from the road, go on nature hikes and advocate for sustained and lasting change through our elected leaders – come as the crocuses bloom and the season mud finally loosens its muddy grip.
When the Earth wakes up, it is an important time to recognize the essential function that rural communities serve as both stewards of the environment and the foundation of the economy.
Rural fields, rivers and forests are the source of the food we eat, the water we drink and the energy we use. Today, the small communities that oversee and manage these resources remain key to our nation’s success, as they will drive production and power the solutions to our nation’s most daunting challenges. Although our economy is now global – as supply chain issues illustrate so well – it is also true that the future lies in rural America.
Through the bipartisan infrastructure bill led by the Biden-Harris administration, Congress is funding rural America with more than $1,200,000,000,000. Eleven zeros represent a unique opportunity to make the lives of rural residents safer, healthier and stronger.
Among other benefits, this economic engagement provides rural communities with the fundamental support they need to create local work opportunities. When we invest in the basics of community development – like sewage expansion, new homes and essential facilities – we create long-term jobs.
Earlier this month, top Biden-Harris administration leaders embarked on a road trip across the country to listen to and learn directly from rural citizens how historic levels of federal funding can best help their communities. The “Building Better Rural Infrastructure in America” tour was part of the effort to refocus the nation’s attention on the value and importance of rural people and places.
For USDA rural development in Vermont, new investments will build on our existing portfolio. USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program provides rural communities with the technical assistance and financing needed to develop clean water and waste disposal systems. Clean water and sanitary disposal are essential to public health, economic development and a healthy ecosystem.
In Montpelier, community stewardship plans include a goal of net-zero energy by 2030. Through rural development-funded upgrades, anaerobic digesters allow high-strength organic waste from farms and restaurants of the region to operate the installation and to send the excess electricity to the local grid. This “organic to energy” design-build model reduces operating costs, greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.
In Vergennes, our agency recently finalized $17.5 million in funding for an improved sewerage system, improved sewer segments, and a rehabilitated pumping station. This overhaul will eliminate discharges into Otter Creek and Lake Champlain, resulting in a significant improvement in public health and safety and lasting protection of our state’s most valuable natural resource.
The long-term growth and development of “small town” Vermont is championed by residents and community leaders who care about the environment and their impact on it.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Act will continue to dedicate billions of dollars to funding modern sanitation systems, high-speed internet, safe roads and bridges, reliable and affordable electricity, clean energy and Of drinking water. And it will continue to advance the kinds of projects Vermonters desire because they reduce our global environmental footprint while creating jobs.
In Bridport, Aegis Renewable Energy is leasing rooftop space from a local dairy for a solar panel that generates 88kW, while in Manchester an additional 330,000kW is being generated through the installation of three wind turbines by Green Power Farms . Clean energy, energy efficiency and even weatherization to reduce fuel consumption are new and ongoing investments in rural communities.
In St. Johnsbury recently, the Fairbanks Museum was finally able to inaugurate the start of its Tang Science Annex, an addition that will include an elevator, expanded science exhibit spaces and a co-location of a Community College of Vermont. This expansion will be built with local eastern hemlock, and this cross-laminated timber building material — called “mass timber” — can help kick-start the revitalization of the Northeast’s softwood lumber industry. Climate-smart agriculture, forestry and economic development are all part of this infrastructure initiative.
Ultimately, the investments we make now will ensure that all rural Vermonters have opportunities to succeed and can find them in their homes, today and for generations to come. I am proud of this focus on new infrastructure that will advance the goals of economic development, quality of life and environmental stewardship.
This is a time of unprecedented federal funding in rural America, and our neighbors today and our children tomorrow deserve our best efforts to make the places where they live healthier, more affordable, economically sound and environmentally sound. healthy. Now is the time to invest in our rural communities and, in doing so, to invest in our planet.