“I wish you’d have asked me before you did it.”

With billions of federal dollars heading out the door for infrastructure projects in the next decade there is going to be a lot of work to do in rural America.

Dirt will be moved. New electric and fiber telecommunications lines will be installed. Concrete will be poured. Water and wastewater pipes will be brought online. Leaky oil and gas wells will be cleaned up. Solar panels will be installed and connected to the grid. Wind turbines will be erected. 

The churn of activity will create quite a few jobs, and will also bring renewed discussions and tensions about local impacts of development. When projects are designed and built, and when the outcomes of this development boom are measured, will rural people end up shouldering a disproportionate share of the negative risks? Will rural wealth be extracted for profit elsewhere? Or will rural communities end up in a better (or at least more stable and fair) financial position?

It’s bound to be a mixed bag, of course. For one example of where we’re headed, take a look at this Oregon report: “Uneven load: How rural communities shoulder the environmental burden of cities,” which provides a nuanced look at Oregon’s wind turbine developments. This segment from the report lays it out pretty succinctly:

“To many urban-dwellers in the region, the prospect of a big wind or solar project means progress toward the urgent goal of weaning civilization off fossil fuel.

But to those with roots in farm or timber country, these projects sometimes represent nothing more than a new wrinkle in an old pattern: resource extraction by monied interests that call the shots from an office at least several zip codes away, perhaps a few jobs, and too often, lasting damage to local water, soil, fish, wildlife and the once-pristine view.”

I’d like to see more rural reporting done in this manner, and I’d like to see more rural reporting conducted on the financial side of these projects. I’d like to see a large focus on transparency of the financial gains associated with public expenditures. It’s a positive sign that some rural journalists are talking directly about resource and wealth extraction these days.

And it would be nice if the people and companies managing these development projects would simply play by the rules, communicate clearly, tell the truth and act with integrity. In the words of the Oregon landowner in the story above who had his property damaged by industrial wind installers who changed plans for a road without asking his permission, then proposed changing it back after the fact: “It’s very kind of you to offer, but it’s too late. I wish you’d have asked me before you did it.”

Be neighborly out there, Keep It Rural readers. That’s good advice for all of us.

Rural Reading List

Here are a few rural news and reporting selections for this week:

A USDA Program Aims to Strengthen Climate Resiliency in Indian Country

This story highlights some ways that the USDA’s Climate Hubs program can help support Native American and Tribal land and water management.

The American Farm Bureau Federation Claims It’s the ‘Voice of Agriculture.’ These Groups Beg to Differ.

A solid look at the Farm Bureau, and it’s heavy-handed role in farm policy process.

Bridging the Great Health Divide: Efforts to Save Rural Hospitals From Closing

A look at the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on rural hospitals, this one from the Missouri Ozarks.

Far From the Big City, New Economic Life

The New York  Times examines the impacts of demographic change in rural communities, here focusing on Middle Tennessee.

One More Thing: The New Numbers on Ethanol

Keep It Rural readers know that part of our job here is tracking the public debate surrounding rural economies and climate change. If you spend much time on these topics, you will no doubt hear—from both supporters and opponents—about ethanol and its production throughout the Corn Belt.

The ethanol industry likes to present itself as environmentally friendly, you see. And that view is held by most politicians involved with farm and food policy. In agriculture and climate discussions in Washington, DC, it’s common for elected officials from both parties to claim that ethanol is “clean” and “low emission.”

Other people point to the downside of corn and soy monocultures. A new study from the University of Wisconsin is stirring the pot on these issues, finding that U.S. corn-based ethanol is worse for the climate than gasoline.

The research, funded in part by the Energy Department and the National Wildlife Federation, found that ethanol is around 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline. Ethanol supporters say this is bunk, of course. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, for instance, has made claims that the federal government is wasting resources on electric-powered vehicles when “clean energy” in Iowa means ethanol. Of course, we’ll keep an eye on the “my energy is cleaner than your energy” debates that are on the way.

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