For Republicans, Pipes Are Infrastructure Only If They Carry Oil

Unhappy with President Joe Biden's sweeping American Jobs Plan, members of the GOP have latched on to an extremely narrow definition of infrastructure.

In an interview last week with Fox NewsSean Hannity, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) expressed outrage over the fact that President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure package calls for significant investments in housing and water pipes — literal infrastructure.

“I was shocked by how much doesn’t go into infrastructure,” she said. “It goes into research and development, it goes into housing and pipes and different initiatives, green energy, and it’s not really an honest conversation that we’re having about what this proposal is.”

“I’m frustrated,” she added.

Apparently, Noem’s definition of energy infrastructure starts and stops with fossil fuels.

In 2017, Noem signed on to a letter in which she and more than 80 other Republican members of Congress called on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to safeguard oil and gas pipelines from protesters. “Maintaining safe and reliable energy infrastructure is a matter of national security,” they wrote.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle via Getty Images

The letter exposes the real issue Noem and other Republicans have with Biden’s infrastructure plan: It prioritizes pipes that carry water rather than fossil fuels, and energy sources other than oil and gas.

A lengthy White House fact sheet on the administration’s plan makes no mention of fossil fuel pipelines. It does, however, include detailed sections on replacing lead pipes across the nation to ensure access to safe drinking water, as well as plugging abandoned oil and gas wells. Compare that to former President Donald Trump’s failed infrastructure plan, which had a whole section on speeding up oil and gas pipeline projects.

Reached for comment, a spokesman for Noem referred HuffPost to the governor’s post to Twitter.

Noem’s criticism is part of an emerging GOP talking point. Their primary line of attack is that Biden’s plan does not target what they’ve dubbed “real” or “traditional” infrastructure.

“You look at this bill, the $2 trillion in the bill that, only about 5 to 7% of it is actual roads and bridges and ports and things that you and I would say is real infrastructure and that we tried to get passed under the last administration with President Trump,” Russell Vought, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump, said on Fox News Radio last week.

The Washington Post fact-checked Vought’s claim and found it to be mostly false, giving it three our of four Pinocchios. “Rail is transportation. Water pipes are infrastructure. Two plus two equals four,” the publication wrote.

The American Jobs Plan, which Biden unveiled during a speech in Pittsburgh last week, includes $621 billion for rebuilding crumbling roads, highways, bridges and waterways, as well as massive federal investment in clean energy in order to rein in planet-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has called the proposal a “Trojan Horse.” And in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called on Biden to slash the price tag from $2.25 trillion to $615 billion. Blunt claimed that only 30% of investments are earmarked for infrastructure “even if you stretch the definition.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other administration officials have defended the package against GOP attacks.

“Railroads weren’t part of infrastructure until we built them,” Buttigieg said on Fox News on Sunday. “Now it’s time to prepare for the future, and the millions of jobs that will be created by this bill are because this bill looks to the future.”

And in a separate interview Sunday with ABC, Buttigieg swung back at Noem’s assertions about pipes.

“Let’s be clear, there’s a lot more than roads and bridges that are part of infrastructure,” he said. “I heard the governor of South Dakota recently saying, ‘This isn’t infrastructure – it’s got money for pipes.’ Well, we believe that pipes are infrastructure, because you need water to live, and too many families now live with the threat of lead poisoning.”

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