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NM congressional leaders support $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill


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A proposed $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives has several provisions that would benefit the state and its southeast region, according to the New Mexico 2nd Congressional District representative who introduced some provisions.

The INVEST in American Act passed the House July 1 by a 233 to 188 vote. It still has to be considered by the Senate, which is not due to reconvene until Thursday.

Last year, President Trump signed a $2 trillion bill, so U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-Las Cruces, said this bill leaves “room for negotiation” with senators. The bill also was supported by Democratic Reps. Debra Haaland of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District and Ben Ray Lujan, of the 3rd Congressional District.

Torres Small, running for re-election to the seat this year against Republican challenger Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, said the bill would provide $300 billion for improvements for roads and bridges, but also sets aside money for broadband infrastructure and related mapping systems.

According to Torres Small, the bill allocates about $80 billion to create a federal program for interested communities to apply for funding to develop their internet broadband systems. But, as importantly, she said, it would support new mapping systems to determine where funding and broadband development is most needed, which she said is increasingly vital in today’s world. She explained her view that fast, reliable internet access is necessary for oilfield workers, employees and students working at home, and for telemedicine.

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“Right now, the maps that are used to determine whether or not they have sufficient broadband access don’t really capture rural areas well,” she said. “They are based on census tracts, and, if one house in a census tract has that broadband access, they count the whole census tract as having that.”

She said that system doesn’t work well in lower-populated counties in Western states, where census tracts often cover large swaths of land of varied economic situations.

The orphan well provision in the bill could benefit from more coordination with the industry and the state energy department, she said. She also acknowledged that a Senate version is under consideration.

But she thinks it makes a lot of sense to provide federal funding to help plug unused wells that oil and gas companies cannot afford to plug or are not willing to plug. She said it would create hundreds of jobs in southeast New Mexico that the existing workforce has skills to do. Plugging unused wells also would protect groundwater and the air from contaminants, she said.

Torres Small also introduced provisions that would promote water conservation and irrigation rehabilitation and would help secure land ports of entry, including Santa Teresa.

She said secure borders are even more important now that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement is in effect.

“We need the infrastructure necessary to support our robust trust economy and also to stop drug trafficking and to make sure that we have the technology to scan commercial trucks and vehicles,” she said.

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