September 1, 2008
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Senate committee signs off on transportation funding
On July 10, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to the FY ’09 Department of Transportation spending bill. Included in that bill is the Baucus-Grassley-Murray plan to restore solvency to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) by transferring funds from the General Fund.
According to a press release from the American Concrete Pavement Association, the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee responded to recommendations by Senate Finance Committee leaders Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Ranking Member Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) by approving the spending bill with the trust fund fix attached and sent it to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval.
The legislation includes full funding of federal aid highway programs at $41.2 billion, the amount authorized for fiscal year 2009 under the current legislation. With lower-than-anticipated federal excise tax receipts, revenue aligned budget authority (RABA) provisions could result in a reduction to $40.2 billion.
The bill will transfer nearly $8.02 billion from the General Fund to the HTF, the same amount that was transferred from the HTF to the General Fund in 1998. This would offset any shortfall of funds, enabling full funding of critical highway programs and helping to ensure that the deficit crisis is resolved. Filling the funding gap would ensure uninterrupted highway projects, boost the U.S. economy, and keep states from losing as much as 34 percent of badly needed highway funding and more than 380,000 related jobs.
The measure also rescinds $3.15 billion in unobligated balances of highway program contract authority previously apportioned to states and provides $3.51 billion for the Airport Improvement Program.
According to a report in National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s eDigest & Washington Watch e-newsletter, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “This legislation is all about making smart investments that will pay real dividends for the American people in both the short and long term.” He went on to commend Murray for “crafting a bill that reflects the needs of all Americans.”
At Aggregates Manager press time, the bill was waiting for full Senate approval. However, some Congressional leaders say that final action on the FY ’09 spending bills is unlikely to occur before the end of the fiscal year and that a continuing resolution would be needed to fund the government through next year, allowing a new president to put his seal of approval on the new bills.
A similar measure to restore the $8 billion to the HTF was put forward in the House of Representatives by Representative Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). However, the transportation bill passed by the House Appropriations subcommittee does not include the transfer of funds to fix the trust fund. Subcommittee Chairman John Olver (D-Mass.) insists that the jurisdiction for such a fix lies with the House Ways and Means and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Peters announces new transportation plan
While transportation funding was being discussed on Capitol Hill, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced the Bush Administration’s new plan to address the nation’s transportation woes. “Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken,” said Peters, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation press release, “and no amount of tweaking, adjusting, or adding new layers on top will make things better. It is time for a new, a different, and a better approach.” The administration’s new plan would reform the nation’s transportation programs by renewing federal focus on maintaining and improving the Interstate Highway System instead of diverting funds for wasteful pet projects and programs. According to Peters, the plan would do the following:
* Address urban congestion and give state and local leaders the flexibility to invest in their most needed transit and highway priorities;
* Create a Metropolitan Innovation Fund to reward cities willing to combine a mix of transit investments, dynamic pricing of highways, and new traffic technologies;
* Replace the current 102 federal transportation programs with eight intermodal programs to help focus investments;
* Refocus emphasis on safety, using a data- and technology-driven approach that gives states the flexibility to tackle tough safety challenges;
* Streamline the federal review process to ask the same environmental and planning questions and to provide quick answers; and
* Find new revenue sources to supplement the gas tax, including options such as tolling and empowering states to take advantage of the more than $400 billion in private-sector funding available worldwide for infrastructure investments.
“Our plan will make it easier to pay for and build roads and transit systems,” Peters said. “It will make our roads safer and give Americans new confidence that the money they invest in transportation will actually deliver results.”
Lafarge researching alternative fuels
As part of an ongoing public commitment to reduce its carbon footprint, Lafarge North America Inc. is teaming up with Performance Plants Inc. (PPI), a biotechnology company based in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to grow and develop clean energy biomass grasses and woods for use as fuel at the Lafarge Cement Plant in Bath, Ontario. “The future of the environment, our business, and the communities we serve depends on reducing the need for fossil fuels to run our operations,” said Robert Cumming, environmental and public affairs manager at the Lafarge Bath Cement Plant.
The companies are also working with the Sustainable Bioeconomy Centre at Queen’s University and the University of Guelph, Kemptville Campus, to evaluate the potential of non-food plant species as fuel.
PPI sees the four-year agreement as an opportunity to create a customized biomass fuel from enhanced non-food crops that can be grown on less-productive farmland. “This is where our technology will be instrumental to develop next-generation seeds that are customized for specific industrial users looking for alternative clean energy sources,” said Peter Matthewman, president of PPI.
John Gerretsen, MPP for Kingston and The Islands, commended the companies and universities for undertaking the research project, according to a press release from Lafarge. “This is exactly the kind of initiative that will contribute to achieving our greenhouse gas reduction objectives,” he said.
Knife River docks dredge
LTM Resource No. 1, a Medford-based company owned by Knife River Corp. of Bismarck, N.D., shut down its dredge at the Reedsport operation of Umpqua River Navigation Co. on May 9, citing several determining factors, including a sagging economy and new environmental restrictions. The huge barge is now docked near the company’s storage yard on the Umpqua River. The company originally planned to stop dredging operations in September 2009, but according to the company newsletter, a scarcity of good quality gravel and the surplus of gravel stockpiled at its Reedsport yard made it more feasible to shut down operations a year earlier.
“It just got to be impractical, economically, for us to continue operations there,” said Joel Frasieur, director of finance for the Southern Oregon region of Knife River Corp, according to a report in The Umpqua Post. He added that navigating the new federal permit application process, which ensures the protection of threatened or endangered animals under the Endangered Species Act, is time-consuming and costly.
Holcim promotes sustainability awareness
A new advertising campaign by Holcim is meant to raise the public’s awareness of the company’s sustainability initiatives and promote cement as a green building product. The campaign, Perfecting Progress, is designed to reach out to its customers, as well as its partners within the building and construction industry, to let them know about the solutions available through Holcim to meet their needs through technology and leadership in sustainability and green building.
The campaign consists of six ads, each highlighting the company’s green practices and their technical support:
* From Sand to Grand – building construction;
* From Hard Rock to Rock & Roll – stadium construction;
* From Pebbles to Pedals – stadium construction;
* From Rock Field to Home Field – stadium construction;
* The Bridge to Bermuda – bridge construction; and
* Our Runways Handle 900,000-Pound Models – runway and airport construction.
Attorney outlines MSHA jurisdictional issues
At the recent 2008 Michigan Aggregates Association annual meeting, Maryland attorney Adele L. Abrams, Esq., told attendees that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is expanding its authority. “Not only are they cracking down hard on mining operations, but they are also trying to expand their turf, and this impacts those of you that have multifaceted operations,” Abrams said, according to an article in Michigan Contractor and Builder.
She added that she had handled cases where MSHA asserted jurisdiction at asphalt batch plants, showed up at off-site maintenance shops that primarily work on construction equipment but might be repairing mining equipment, and went into stockpile sales yards that were not located at the active quarry.
“If these things happen, make sure you tell them that they have overstepped MSHA’s jurisdiction. These are cases where you would want to go to an expedited hearing for any citations they issue,” said Abrams, adding that if operators allow inspectors in and don’t dispute their jurisdiction, they effectively waive that argument in the future.
“What we’re dealing with right now is the fallout from the Sago Mine disaster,” she said. “The mining industry regulation environment changed forever, I think, on Jan. 2, 2006.”
Mine rescuers test their skills
Mine rescue teams recently had their skills put to the test at the 2008 Metal/Nonmetal National and International Mine Rescue Contest, a three-day event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. More than 30 teams from 14 states, as well as 11 teams representing seven other countries, competed in the contest, which consisted of several events.
In the Mine Rescue contest, teams raced against the clock to solve a hypothetical mine emergency problem while adhering to mine rescue procedures. Emergency medical technicians tackled real-life scenarios in the First Aid contest. In the Benchman and Multi-gas contests, rescue equipment maintenance personnel were timed as they inspected breathing devices and gas instruments to identify defects.
First place in the Mine Rescue contest, as well as Best All Around Team honors, went to FMC Alkali Chemicals’ red team in the national competition. First place in the international competition went to the team from Australia.
Court finds flaws in clean air interstate rule
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found several fatal flaws in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule on July 11. The court struck down the agency’s method for allocating emissions allowances for upwind states and its interpretation of protections for downwind states, leading the judges to vacate the entire rule.
Lafarge scraps tire-burning plan
Lafarge Canada plans to scrap its plan to burn tires at its Bath, Ontario, Canada, cement plant before it goes to an independent hearing through the Ontario Court of Appeal. The company stated, “There will be no need for parties to continue expending time and resources on the appeal hearing.” The company stands behind the safety of tire-burning technology and has been working for about five years to get provincial permission to burn tires, bone meal, and other waste at its Bath cement kiln.
Robotic mining trucks
A joint venture between Caterpillar and mining company BHP Billiton will develop driverless mining trucks to increase worker safety and efficiency. The objective is to combine Cat’s robotic truck technology with Billiton’s mining processes to develop autonomous, robotic mining trucks for use by 2010.
Joseph W. Roth, a senior at the Missouri University of Science & Technology, was selected to receive the 11th annual Barry K. Wendt Memorial Scholarship from the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association in conjunction with the Aggregates Foundation for Technology, Research and Education. Roth is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering with a minor in explosives engineering.
Holcim Awards competition
The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction and the International Union of Architects (UIA) joined forces to promote sustainable architecture worldwide. The global Holcim Awards competition for architects, engineers, and related professions aims to recognize practitioners with ground-breaking and more sustainable approaches to designing and building houses, working environments, and infrastructure, and includes a “Next Generation” category for young professionals to develop “blue sky” concepts that point the way to the future.