Brooke Wisdom | November 1, 2010
Changes Coming Thick and Fast from “Activist” EPA
Is the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) close to creating, by coincidence, a perfect regulatory storm that could affect highway and bridge work across the country?
The agency is working on new standards and regulations in several areas, including
*Particulate Matter (PM) aka “Soot”
*Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
A potential worry, according to Nick Goldstein, the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association (ARTBA) vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs, is not so much that any one of these could prove tough to meet but they might all arrive at roughly the same time. All may be complete by spring.
“New regulations are on the way, so are changes to existing laws,” says Goldstein. “This is one of the most activist EPAs in history.”
While the EPA is working on each subject separately in what we might call a silo pattern, the cumulative effect of a series of new standards coming online could be a huge hurdle for contractors. It could also put government agencies in a bad place. For example, according to Goldstein, new EPA ozone standards in the pipeline could lead to 96-percent nonattainment, a scenario where counties fail to meet the standards. Only Montana would have every county compliant. With PM, many would also be noncompliant, possibly at very nearly the same time.
The EPA proposal to tighten PM standards amounts to “moving the goal posts in the middle of the game” and could jeopardize state highway safety improvements Goldstein told the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee hearing back in August.
Further tightening of PM standards would jeopardize highway funding to state and local agencies by placing these areas out of compliance with the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), Goldstein told the committee. Agencies out of compliance are at risk of losing federal highway funding, which supports projects designed to improve road safety, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality — a move that would have unintended consequences and be contrary to other public policies.
Even an EPA that was aware of what might happen and reluctant to proceed might have little choice if prodded by public pressure that new standards be implemented.
Changes in stormwater regulations are also possible, and here Goldstein’s concern is that they may add to potential liability problems for contractors. Again, the point is not so much that changes may be coming but that they may arrive, and have to be handled by contractors, at a time when other regulations are also being introduced.
An EPA proposal which could regulate coal ash as a “hazardous waste” (it could also choose not to do this) could make concrete more expensive and less durable, thus increasing the costs and environmental footprint of key transportation improvement projects, Goldstein told another EPA hearing in August.
“EPA could put an end to an environmental success story,” says Goldstein.
“Every element of the transportation construction process, from the suppliers of concrete to the contractors who handle construction materials, would be affected by the stigma of a ‘hazardous waste’ label for coal ash. Specifically, because of the increased expense of handling a hazardous waste, the producers of coal ash would be resistant to continue providing it to concrete manufacturers.”
The transportation sector’s use of coal ash has been an environmental success story, Goldstein says. “According to EPA’s own data, coal ash accounts for between 15 and 30 percent of the cement in concrete. Further, EPA has noted using coal ash at this level results in annual greenhouse gas reductions in concrete production of between 12.5 and 25 million tons, and an annual reduction in oil consumption between 26.8 and 53.6 million barrels.
Goldstein told EPA officials that on four separate occasions, in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2000, the agency found that coal ash did not warrant regulation as a “hazardous” waste. He said there has been no new scientific information presented since these prior reviews that would warrant EPA’s reaching a different conclusion now.v
In 2008 alone, more than 12.5 million tons of coal ash was used in the production of concrete, including:
Colorado, where the use of coal ash in 2008 reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 19,500 tons;
Indiana, where the state Department of Transportation is able to use an average of 42 percent of the coal ash generated on recycled construction material;
North Carolina, where the use of coal ash is saving $5 to $10 million annually on transportation projects;
Texas, where the annual savings from coal ash is estimated at $16 million; and
Minnesota, where coal ash was used in the concrete for the new I-35W bridge replacement.
We must spend more on infrastructure:
Obama and advisors
By Audrey Dutton
Transportation stakeholders are divided on a renewed push by President Obama for Congress to provide $50 billion of funding and the release of a report by the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers that stresses the economic risk of not spending more on infrastructure.
President Obama called on lawmakers to work with the White House on a plan to front-load a multi-year transportation bill with $50 billion of road, rail and aviation spending. The proposal would create a national infrastructure bank to leverage private capital, consolidate the more than 100 federal programs that deal with transportation and make funding decisions based on merit instead of earmarks.
In support of his push for more spending, the President cited the “tens of thousands” of road, water, sewer, and electric projects that have created or supported “hundreds of thousands” of jobs since the Stimulus law was enacted last year.
The administration released a report the same day providing support for its argument for spending more on infrastructure. The report — mostly a discussion of previous research by industry groups, experts and scholars, and think tanks — said that economic growth in the U.S. is slowed by aging infrastructure.
“Our roads, clogged with traffic, cost us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Our airports, choked with passengers, cost nearly $10 billion a year in productivity losses from flight delays,” President Obama said. He cited the often-repeated statistic that American infrastructure spending is a fraction of Russia’s and China’s.
The report said that unless the U.S. ramps up spending, it could lose global competitiveness. It cited the Progressive Policy Institute’s finding that the U.S. spends 2 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, while China and Europe spend about 9 and 5 percent, respectively.
State officials praised the administration’s call for bipartisan support of the plan.
“The analysis we’ve done shows the investments made possible through the [Stimulus law] will be wrapping up next year,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “Unless there is an initiative like the President’s to continue investment in transportation, you will see 300,000 construction-related jobs lost by the end of next year.”
But the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica of Florida, criticized the President’s plan and the report.
“Unfortunately, this last-minute report is a pitiful and tardy political excuse,” he said, following the administration’s effort last year to postpone a new multi-year transportation bill until after November’s elections. A multi-year bill would have created the jobs that the administration wants to create now through its $50-billion plan, Mica said in an interview. “I remain committed and ready to talk, work, and take action with these folks when they return to planet Earth with both feet on the ground,” he added.v
62mpg in 2025
New 2025 model cars and trucks may be required to average 62 mpg. Not all of them. Some may only have to hit 42 mpg.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), working with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have released an Interim Joint Technical Assessment Report (TAR) on the potential cost and effectiveness of and lead-time requirements for more than 30 technologies that could be available to be applied toward new vehicle standards through model year 2025.
The documents estimate that the toughest efficiency standards in the range being considered would add $800 to $3,500 to the price of each vehicle. But then owners could save as much as $5,700 to $7,400 over the lifetime of the vehicle in lower fuel costs.
The report estimates vehicles could achieve roughly 42 to 62 mpg in 2025, if all improvements were made using fuel economy-improving technology, using a range of illustrative technology pathways. The technology pathways are intended to show the different cost impacts of achieving different levels of stringency, if the industry were to place more or less emphasis on hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles as compared to advanced gasoline technologies and vehicle mass reduction.
“We’re going to have bridges collapse. We’re going to have earthquakes. We need somebody to grab the issue and run with it, whether it be in Congress or the White House.”
– Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta on the need to fund infrastructure
Our country roads are quieter than yours!
Highway officials in northern Minnesota’s Carlton County have decided on a quieter approach to safety markings on county roads than their colleagues in nearby St. Louis County, where the noise of tires hitting rumble stripes is apparently only exceeded by the howls of sleep-deprived residents.
In considering a request by highway engineer Wayne Olson to proceed with bidding out the road striping project in Carlton County, near Duluth, county commissioners questioned if the rumble stripes causing a ruckus in St. Louis County would be part of the Carlton program. After St. Louis County cut 81 miles of rumble stripes into several county highways, some residents there began objecting to the sound they create, claiming sleep and solitude are being disrupted.
Instead, in Carlton, 93 miles of roadway will have the outer fog line expanded from four to six inches in width, according to the Cloquet Pine Journal. “Research has shown that wider stripes give drivers, especially older ones, added visibility to help keep them on the road,” said Olson, explaining the wider four-county, 241-mile initiative Carlton is participating in will be fully funded by a federal program to increase use of accident-preventing highway markings. “There’s not a lot of low-cost, high-return measures that fit into that category, but we feel that this is one of them.”
Chi-Town Can’t Wait, Gotta Connect
If there is one place in the country where a need exists for an interchange of intersecting interstate highways, it’s suburban Chicago. Yet, the intersection of Interstate 57 and Interstate 294 remains one of only two anywhere at which motorists cannot move directly from one highway to the other.
While a $600-million project to complete a new interchange is being considered by the Federal Highway Administration, the State of Illinois isn’t waiting any longer on initiating construction required in preparation of a new interchange. As announced this fall by Gov. Pat Quinn, the state will dip into the Illinois Jobs Now! fund for $28 million to replace the 45-year-old I-57 bridge over I-294. Work on the new bridge – described as a “precursor” to the eventual building of a new interchange – will begin next spring and be completed in 2013.
The Weeds are ALWAYS Greener
In an e-mail to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and other state officials, Memphis resident Melissa Alexander suggested tall roadside grass and weeds west of the Tennessee River were giving the appearance that highways in Middle Tennessee, including state capital Nashville, receive more maintenance attention from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. This is not so, says Chuck Rychen, TDOT Region 4 director. It boils down, he says, to different roadside mowing contracts in TDOT regions separated by the river, according to the report in The Commercial Appeal.
“Mowing and litter removal on our interstate system is contracted on an annual basis. Our contracts call for four cycles, which are typically spread out during the growing season,” Rychen replied to Alexander. “Although it would be ideal for coordination to occur between mowing contracts, it is not practical due to different contracts being in place.”
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