Sitting at the table was Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States, and near him was Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
“I felt ecstatic. For a farm kid who grew up in a tobacco patch, I never thought this opportunity would happen,” Quarles told the News-Graphic on Monday.
But just 90 minutes earlier, there the Scott County native was, sitting near President Trump during the unveiling of the Trump administration’s “Building a Stronger America” national infrastructure initiative.
“I represented the agriculture industry today,” Quarles said.
“I believe they are genuine and they deeply care about the needs of an area of the country that’s been somewhat neglected in previous years,” he said about Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly and other members of the administration.
In particular, Quarles said he was excited about Trump’s commitment of $200 billion in federal funding toward the initiative, some of which will target providing broadband and internet service to rural areas.
“I have a particular interest in the role broadband can play in rural America and in farming,” Quarles said.
The Trump administration plan calls for at least $1.5 trillion in investments to rebuild failing infrastructure, including roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across the country. Beyond the $200 billion in federal funds, the plan calls for the difference to be funded by state, local and private funding.
“Kentucky will directly benefit from this new plan,” Quarles said.
The state’s ongoing effort to extend high-speed internet to underserved counties would be funded through block grants submitted to the federal government, Quarles said.
The exact amount of funding that could end up in Kentucky has not been determined, he said.
“Connecting rural Kentucky should be a priority, not only for agriculture but for all those who are located in rural parts of the state,” Quarles said.
Another aspect of the Trump plan is to streamline permitting processes that previously have bogged down projects, he said.
“In some cases, these permitting processes have taken 10-plus years to occur. The president is aiming at two years, and in some cases months-long timelines so American can replace its roads, bridges, waterways and other projects,” Quarles said.
Streamline the process would involve establishing a “one agency, one decision” structure for environmental reviews of project proposals, according to materials released by the White House.
Quarles said he was contacted Thursday about his invitation to attend Monday’s announcement.
“I was the only commissioner of agriculture [in attendance]. I sat alongside governors, prominent mayors from across the country and members of the president’s Cabinet,” Quarles said.
Dan Adkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.