At the tail end of last week, Tom Steyer rolled out his new rural plan, called “Partnerships with Rural Communities,” which calls for massive investments in rural areas and assets.
“For centuries, the people who call rural America home did so because of its combination of beauty and opportunity. Rural communities feed the world, provide the raw materials for industry, and are home to ancestral Tribal lands and the ecosystems that purify and protect clean water,” Steyer’s plan reads.
A big piece of Steyer’s plan is to harness rural areas to combat the climate crisis by providing these areas with resources to sustain growth and improve measures to create sustainable food and energy.
“In Tom’s People Over Profits Economic Agenda,” his plan reads, “he pledges to direct the full power and resources of the federal government to build inclusive economic prosperity for all Americans — including the nearly 60 million — who call rural America home.”
Steyer’s plan holds four key initiatives that all focus on investments in rural areas to secure the rural way of life for people across the country.
- Build a foundation of connectivity – Make large, up-front investments in rural broadband and other connectivity measures to assure that people in rural areas have access to services available in urban areas, as well as laying the groundwork for services that will lessen strains on rural areas, like telemedicine.
- Invest in people – This includes mostly health care investments to ensure that rural residents have access to necessary services, can go to hospitals when needed, can receive treatment for addiction and mental health challenges, and that women in rural areas have access to pre-natal care to lower maternal mortality rates.
- Grow a just economy with good jobs – This portion of Steyer’s plan involves some restorative measures as well as forward-looking goals to ensure job creation and economic mobility in rural areas. Included are things like restoring and further developing global markets so that agricultural products have a stable, reliable price, and building anti-trust measurements to reduce practices that put family farmers, food security, environmental quality and worker health at risk.
- Partner to address the climate crisis – This involves a few crucial pieces. First, Steyer has proposed large investments to grow the clean-energy economy. It also includes supporting climate-safe parks, public lands and recreational, economic devices. The last piece is climate-smart agriculture, which proposes spending hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure that medium and small family farms can continue their work, and offering lasting pay to ensure that agriculture is operated with the climate at the forefront.
A lot of this sounds like it requires big-time upfront investments, and it does. In total, Steyer’s rural plan calls for a whopping total of $863.3 billion dollars in investments in rural areas.
Nearly $250 billion of that total falls into the connectivity piece of the plan, which includes $135 billion in utility service grants, alongside private investments, for broadband, fiber and next-generation network upgrades.
60% of that $135 billion will go to disadvantaged communities in rural areas, 20% will go to minority-majority communities, and 10% will go to connectivity upgrades for tribal lands.
Another $112.5 billion from that portion will go to a decade’s worth of upgrades on roads, bridges and levees in rural areas, improving common infrastructure, as well as making them more resilient to natural disasters like flooding and fires.
There are also large amounts of funding set aside to deal specifically with climate resiliency. $75 billion will go toward green infrastructure like upstream watersheds and groundwater improvements. Another $80 billion is aimed at improving forest health and improving conditions for fire-reduction.
There are also billions of dollars set aside for power-grid updates, public land protections, protecting productive farmland and upgrading and maintaining parks and other recreational land.
Investing in Health for the Future
The portion of Steyer’s plan called “investing in people” calls for large-dollar investments to address public-health issues. Steyer has proposed spending $100 billion over the course of a decade to “revolutionize the way America addresses mental health care.”
This includes partnering with the DHS and the Department of Education to change the way the school system, prison system and the health care industry talk about and treat mental health issues. It also includes requiring full coverage of mental health from insurance providers, improving access to tele-health services in rural areas and training more specialized providers.
Another piece of this is addressing the opioid crisis, which Steyer plans to spend $75 billion on. This will not only go toward providing treatment and care, but will also “hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce against the illegal distribution and sale of opioids.”
The last major piece of investing in people revolves around clean water access.
Steyer’s partnership with rural communities will provide a total of $78.3 billion for three initiatives to fund clean drinking water projects, increase money for rural utility service/water treatment grants, mobilize funds for site cleanup and brownfield remediation, and directing the EPA to strongly enforce oversight of corporate polluters under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
Steyer’s plan certainly makes the push for adequate upfront investment, and putting other pieces in place in regulatory agencies would go a long way toward making these investments work.
By Josh Cook