Pizza & Politics: Infrastructure

Day-to-day operations are dependent on infrastructure such as highways, public transportation, electric grids, healthcare, law enforcement and more.The operation of the United States relies heavily on infrastructure as it is the basic system and services that our country needs in order to function. There are three types of infrastructure: soft infrastructure, hard infrastructure, and critical infrastructure. Soft infrastructure encompasses the structure of healthcare, law enforcement, government and education. Hard Infrastructure pertains to roads, highways, bridges and other transportation. Critical infrastructure consists of shelter, energy, resources, communication and agriculture.

So, when the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service held its weekly Pizza and Politics event on Wednesday Sept. 29, students poured in to learn about the societal and organizational structures of the U.S. 

Executive Council Members for the Leavitt Center Ella Gambill and Julia Last explained the critical conditions of the U.S. infrastructure. 

“Many infrastructure networks, such as the interstate system, were built in the 1950s and 60s,” Gambill said. “The population has almost doubled since then, and these original forms of infrastructure are outdated and can’t support the growing population.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. has an overall C- rating for its infrastructure. However, The federal government directly spent $63 billion and granted another $83 billion to states for infrastructure projects, so improvements are possible.”

Students agreed that the U.S. needs to prioritize maintaining the nation’s infrastructure. However, they voiced mixed opinions when Gambill asked, “Should the federal government take more responsibility in funding infrastructure?”

Benji Tuinei, an SUU freshman stated, “Yes, there is no other entity with the money and qualifications that can take care of our nation’s infrastructure.”

While those like SUU freshman Emily Shurtiff disagreed, “Responsibility should be shared with states.”

Photo by Anja Hayes

Last led the discussion into environmental problems. She explained that infrastructure projects that build roads, railways, dams and reservoirs can disrupt migration patterns, split apart ecosystems and divert water from river systems causing drought. In addition to this set of environmental problems, fracking in the U.S. creates a substantial amount of carbon dioxide emissions, water pollution and earthquakes.   

Last asked, “Should more emphasis be put towards environmentally conscious infrastructure?”

“We should focus on that,” stated SUU sophomore Cody Bolton. “Different companies are planning to make entire fleets electric to cut back on CO2 emissions and if the government advocates for the environment, everyone will be on board.”

Gambill continued the discussion with an introduction to indigenous land and U.S. infrastructure projects. 

In the U.S., Native American reservations are one of the most disadvantaged communities in terms of infrastructure. According to the National Congress of American Indians, 40% of on-reservation housing is considered substandard and 16% are not equipped with adequate indoor plumbing.

Photo by Harold Mendoza on Unsplash

The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1200 mile underground pipeline that transports crude oil, intrudes on the reserved land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline is in direct violation of article II of the Fort Laramie Treaty, a treaty that guarantees the tribe the right to the “undisturbed use and occupation” of their land. 

Gambill thereupon asked, “Should the federal government play a role in deciding what can be built on Indigenous land?”

“Infrastructure in relation to Indigenous land has a lot of grey areas,” responded SUU freshman Achillen Diamond. “In terms of jurisdiction, treaties affect what the U.S. can and cannot do.”

Executive Council Member for the Leavitt Center Carson Brown also explained that indigenous lands are sovereign lands. He added that the federal government should be involved, but should not over power the Indigenous voices. 

Gambill followed those remarks and asked the audience what the U.S. could do to improve reservation infrastructure.

“Whatever our government does should be in line with treaties that are already established,” stated Executive Council Member Tom Cloward, “because we have a long history of breaking treaties.”

Another member of the executive council, Jakob Gertler, added that Indigenous people have to be at the table and be a part of negotiations with the U.S. 

In order to tackle the numerous problems regarding America’s infrastructure, Last spoke about the $500 billion infrastructure bill passed by the House of Representatives. The bill makes the largest federal investment in public transit, bridge maintenance, clean drinking water, clean energy and tackles other infrastructure issues. 

“Is the bill sufficient?” Last asked, “What should be added or taken away?”

“The bill is a good start in rebuilding our infrastructure,” Tuinei said, “I don’t think it addresses all of the issues of infrastructure, but a bigger bill would need to be passed in order to do so.”

“I think it is important to note that the bill was passed in a bipartisan manner.” Cloward replied, “Even though it was proposed by democrats, republican senators like Mitt Romney agreed to pass the bill.”

The next Pizza and Politics event is Wednesday, Oct. 6 at noon. The topic being discussed will be “Immigration and Asylum Seekers” in room 112 of the Sharwan Smith Student Center. 

Story by: Danielle Meuret

Photos by: Anja Hayes and Harold Mendoza on unsplash