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White House focus on infrastructure collaboration is refreshing

By Staff | Jun 16, 2017

Infrastructure is the bedrock of our communities, our economy in North Dakota and the entire nation.

From the food we eat and water we drink to the electricity that lights our homes and fuel that powers our vehicles, all of it depends on infrastructure.

For far too long, the federal government has been criticized often justifiably as an obstacle to infrastructure development.

Too much red tape. Too many delays from redundant studies and duplicative environmental reviews. Too much interference driven by national political winds rather than practical, local decision making. Too much uncertainty over federal funding to attract local buy-in or private investment.

And so it was incredibly refreshing Thursday to hear a clear, consistent message of state empowerment and federal collaboration from President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Cabinet members and other senior administration officials.

President Trump set the tone as he welcomed the eight governors and nearly two dozen other state, local and tribal leaders who had been invited to the White House Infrastructure Summit.

Together, he said, we’re going to rebuild America.

That sentiment was echoed throughout the day by leaders such as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, our neighbor from Montana, who said he wants to push authority back to the states and be a partner, not an adversary. Zinke understands we need a stable federal permitting process to attract investment in infrastructure. The Trump administration also wants to dramatically shorten the permitting time for infrastructure projects, from up to 10 years down to two years.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and I found a receptive audience during our breakout sessions as we emphasized the need to reduce regulations, streamline the permitting process and embrace technology to tackle our current and future infrastructure needs whether that be ensuring adequate broadband to support unmanned aerial vehicles collecting data for precision agriculture and monitoring critical infrastructure such as pipelines, or capturing carbon emissions at our coal and ethanol plants for use in enhanced oil recovery.

We also advocated that projects with a high percentage of local and state funding, such as the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, should move ahead of those seeking the bulk of their dollars from federal sources.

Our administration and the new administration in Washington both understand that to solve our issues and rebuild America’s foundation, we need more innovation, not regulation.

With the successful resolution of the Dakota Access Pipeline, we saw how removing politics from the equation can help pave the way for safe infrastructure progress. Now, we should turn our attention to aging pipelines, roads, bridges and other crumbling infrastructure that presents more of a danger to public safety and stifles development.

We need more federal research dollars to help solve real-world problems. We need to approve projects with a high return on investment, creating smart, efficient infrastructure that leads to healthy, vibrant communities that attract and retain a 21st century workforce.

The task ahead is challenging. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates $2 trillion in U.S. infrastructure needs. President Trump has called for leveraging $200 billion in federal spending to spur $1 trillion in total infrastructure investment through state, local and private-sector partnerships.

Details have yet to be hammered out, but the commitment is clear. All of us should be excited about the prospect of building the infrastructure of the future with a federal government that no longer represents roadblocks but rather an open lane to progress.

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