Infrastructure in the News: December 5, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Capital New York: Rendell says Hillary is persuadable
On "Hardball" last night, Ed Rendell said Hillary Clinton could be persuaded to run in 2016.
Philadelphia Inquirer: DN Editorial: A NEW ROADMAP
AS OUR neighbors in Paulsboro, N.J., are stuck in their homes following a train derailment that has spilled a toxic chemical into the air, we're doubly relieved that the adults in Harrisburg are finally trying to find a way to rescue the Motor License Fund, which pays for all highway and bridge repairs in Pennsylvania. The Paulsboro train derailed last week crossing a failed bridge.
BuzzFeed: Climate Change Fades From Sandy Debate
WASHINGTON — The Washington conversation about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath has shifted quickly from concern about climate change to a fight over federal cash.
Politico Pro: Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
BIG TRANSPO NAMES AT PRO EVENT: Ever wonder why you should go Pro? Here’s a great reason. Next Wednesday, Dec. 12, we’re hosting a discussion of all things transportation, including a look back at 2012 and a look ahead to 2013. And we’ve locked down some great names: T&I Chairman John Mica, incoming EPW ranking member Sen. David Vitter, former T&I Chairman Jim Oberstar, T&I member Tim Holden, former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell, and two state DOT secretaries: Sean Connaughton of Virginia and Gene Conti of North Carolina. Pros can RSVP here: http://politi.co/TG7mpm
Washington Post: Highlights of competing White House, GOP plans to avoid the “fiscal cliff”
The Obama administration and House Republicans have unveiled their opening offers in talks to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Details are scant but the White House estimates its plan would carve $4.4 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade, including previously enacted cuts ($1 trillion) and savings from reduced costs for overseas military operations ($800 billion), as well as interest payments on the national debt ($600 billion).
Streetsblog: Obama Takes Another Swing at $50 Billion in Infrastructure Spending
President Obama is pressing for infrastructure investment again as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. The president kicked off talks calling for an end to the debt ceiling, the extension of middle-class tax cuts, and $50 billion in infrastructure spending — a proposal that first arose last year as part of his ultimately unsuccessful American Jobs Act.
Streetsblog: Four Republicans Who Might Work Across the Aisle on Transportation
First Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois announced his retirement. Then Ohio’s Rep. Steve LaTourette said he couldn’t take the petty gridlock anymore and followed suit.
The Hill: GOP presses for Senate passage of FEMA bill during Hurricane Sandy review
Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Tuesday that Hurricane Sandy made the case for passing their version of a bill containing funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Time: A Response to David Frum, Who Seems to Like the Obama Stimulus Better Than He Thinks He Does
David Frum has carved out an admirable niche as a voice for sanity inside the Republican Party, so I must admit I was disappointed when his review of my book about President Obama’s stimulus ignored my reporting on the GOP’s departure to crazytown. And while I realize that Frum isn’t really a reporter—more of a big thinker, I guess—I must admit I was irritated when his long response to my “grumbly tweets” harping on the errors in his review made me sound like a thin-skinned liberal. It isn’t true! Well, the liberal part isn’t true. But Frum’s double whack at The New New Deal does raise legitimate questions about green industrial policy that deserve a response beyond 140 characters.
Center for American Progress: A Tax Reform and Deficit Reduction Plan
Earlier this year, with the fiscal showdown on the horizon, the Center for American Progress convened a group of leading economic experts—including former White House chiefs of staff, former U.S. Treasury Department secretaries, and former directors of the National Economic Council—to develop a plan that would address some of the most serious flaws in the federal tax code and achieve meaningful deficit reduction.
FastLane: Buy America boosts manufacturing, keep jobs here at home
President Obama has long understood that investments in our infrastructure--including public transportation--create jobs today and pay valuable dividends tomorrow. And DOT has been a strong champion of that idea.
Washington Post: The Morning Plum: Why Obama won't negotiate with GOP over debt ceiling
So here's the latest on the fiscal cliff talks: Republicans have edged closer to yielding on middle class taxes -- but they may now swing the gun in the direction of a new hostage, i.e., the debt ceiling.
Politico Pro: If Sandy relief falls short, infrastructure could land in back seat
By Kathryn A. Wolfe and Jessica Meyers
States may end up getting a lot less than they’re asking for in Sandy disaster relief — and that could be bad news for infrastructure interests that may have to line up behind other priorities.
A House Republican appropriations aide said chatter around how much the White House will request from Congress has veered between $20 billion and $80 billion, but that talks “seem to be coalescing around the $40 to $50 billion mark.”
Considering that Northeastern states affected by the storm have requested a combined $80 billion, something’s got to give if that number holds. And that something — at least in the short term — may be funding for transportation systems and other infrastructure damaged by the storm.
“Whatever’s needed right now, in the next couple months in terms of relief and recovery would obviously be the first priority,” the House appropriations aide said, “and then long-term infrastructure improvements obviously wouldn’t be needed right away.”
The exact funding level and timing of the White House’s request is still up in the air.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told POLITICO that the last he heard, the White House was aiming to submit the offer on Friday, though aides said it could come as soon as Wednesday.
“But they’ve promised something now several times,” Rogers said. He added that he didn’t know how much the request would be for and was unsure whether it would end up being the first in a series of requests, which some have posited.
New York’s $42 billion request includes just more than $5 billion to replace and repair Metropolitan Transportation Authority equipment damaged by the storm. New Jersey’s $37 billion ask includes $1.35 billion for roads, bridges and transit.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said he was unsure how transportation will be treated in the disaster supplemental, and that it all hinges on receiving the White House’s offer. “I have no idea,” Latham said. “Until we hear from them, we can’t do anything.”
Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who chairs the House Transportation subcommittee in charge of maritime issues, said he wasn’t sure whether transportation priorities would lag. “We’re just concerned about everything,” he said. “We don’t have the answers yet. We’re waiting to hear what we’re going to do.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he’s worried less about whether other immediate needs would eclipse transportation revitalization.
“If [the White House request] is inadequate, I have no reason to believe it’s more inadequate in this area than any other area,” he said.
Nadler said New York would need $32 billion to cover existing damage and another $9 million to protect the state against future storms. “Any intelligent allocator of resources would say we want to do that because that $9 billion may prevent $40 billion nine years from now,” he said.
Some of how this shakes out depends on how lawmakers decide to move the package. Rogers wants to take a two-pronged approach, in which a smaller disaster relief package with higher-priority items would be moved during the lame duck, followed by a bigger package next year.
Whatever is drafted may also end up hitching a ride on a year-end omnibus appropriations bill, or possibly as part of a fiscal cliff deal. Attaching a supplemental to a deal on the fiscal cliff becomes more likely if Republicans insist that disaster funding be offset by revenues.
During a Tuesday hearing intended to highlight infrastructure priorities post-storm, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) implored his colleagues to pass a supplemental “without offsets.”
But even during that hearing, infrastructure priorities got short shrift. The House Transportation Committee used Hurricane Sandy as a vehicle to highlight FEMA actions and push for a bill reforming the agency. The hearing also focused on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s role in redevelopment.
A bill to reauthorize FEMA has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the agency would request supplemental funding “in early spring” since the agency won’t run out of money for a few more months.
East Coast committee members did emphasize the need for an emergency supplemental, although few specified where it would go.
Politico Pro: Shuster on LaHood: Looks like he's staying around
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood might be sticking around at DOT into President Barack Obama’s second term, according to a top Hill lawmaker who recently spoke with the secretary.
LaHood told incoming House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) that the two would be working together in the near term, Shuster told POLITICO. Speculation has swirled around LaHood’s future after he recently backed off comments made last year that he would retire after the president’s first term.
“I got a call from Secretary LaHood; it sounds like he may be staying for a while. I’m not sure exactly what his timing is, but I’m sure there will be an announcement,” Shuster said in an interview just off the House floor.
“I said, ‘Are we going to work together?’ And he goes, ‘Yes, for a while.’ He’s talked to the president,” Shuster said. The future chairman hedged a bit, saying that with all the “high-level, high-profile” Cabinet posts that likely need to be filled — like the departments of Defense and State — Obama might plead with LaHood to stay on board. “My guess is — I don’t know this for a fact — but [Obama] said, ‘Hey LaHood, stick around.’”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that no Cabinet decisions have been made. A White House spokesman said Tuesday he had “no personnel updates” at the moment.
A DOT spokesman would not comment on LaHood’s future and pointed to an earlier remark to POLITICO. In September, the secretary said that "if I’m still around next year, I’m going to try and push Congress" to pass a national texting-while-driving law — an ambitious goal that couldn’t easily be achieved in the first few months of the 113th Congress.
Several sources close to LaHood have told POLITICO that the only way he would stay is for Obama to personally lobby him not to leave.
Shuster and LaHood have known each other for years and served together in the House for nearly a decade. Shuster said he works well with the secretary and pointed out a link that sometimes gets lost amid the strongly Democratic Obama administration: “He’s a Republican,” Shuster said.
Politico Pro: Supreme Court: Government flooding may have cost
By JESSICA MEYERS
When it comes to flooding, the United States may have to start paying up.
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the government may need to compensate property owners when it releases water and floods their land.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States, which delved into property rights, governmental responsibility and the role of the Army Corps of Engineers, addressed whether temporary flooding constitutes a “taking” by the federal government. The Fifth Amendment requires the government compensate landowners when claiming their property for public use.
The court sided with the commission.
“There is no solid grounding in precedent for setting flooding apart from all other intrusions on property,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court in the 8-0 opinion. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part because of a possible conflict of interest.
The commission sued the feds after six years of corps-authorized flooding destroyed more than 100,000 trees and wildlife habitats in Arkansas forests. That happened between 1993 and 1998, when the corps allowed the release of water from Missouri’s Clearwater Dam.
The commission won more than $5 million in a federal claims court but got shot down in an appellate ruling last year. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying the lower court only looked at whether the incident was temporary or permanent.
The government had called the releases minimal and said the corps had to weigh the overall impact.
But the court discounted the notion that it would open a Pandora’s box of required government payments.
“While we recognize the importance of the public interests the Government advances in this case, we do not see them as categorically different from the interests at stake in myriad other Takings Clause cases,” Ginsburg wrote, adding that “the slippery slope argument” is hardly unique.
The court did warn that these cases need individual examination. It set no overarching condition for government-mandated flooding.
Still, this marks the first water “takings” case in half a century and may help define some related property owner rights.
The Army Corps, citing the potential for continued legislation, said the agency could not comment.
The commission determined it a win for conservationists and property protectors alike.
“Property owners, and anyone interested in how our Fifth Amendment safeguards property rights, welcome the clarification that comes from the Supreme Court,” Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lawyer Jim Goodhart told POLITICO.
Goodhart said the commission is seeking the $5.7 million awarded by the trial court along with an additional $5 million in interest and additional damages.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
EXCLUSIVE — LaHood tells Shuster he’s staying ‘for a while’: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will stick around in his DOT post — at least for a while, incoming T&I Chairman Bill Shuster told MT yesterday. Shuster talked to LaHood recently, and we’ll let the future chairman take it away from here: “I got a call from Secretary LaHood; it sounds like he may be staying for a while. I’m not sure exactly what his timing is, but I’m sure there will be an announcement,” he said in an interview just off the House floor. “I said, ‘Are we going to work together?’ And he goes, ‘Yes, for a while.’ He’s talked to the president,” Shuster said, noting that with all the “high-level, high-profile” Cabinet posts that likely need to be filled — like Defense and State — Obama might ask LaHood to stay on board. Several sources close to LaHood have said that a personal plea from Obama would be needed for him to stick around. “My guess is — I don’t know this for a fact — but [Obama] said, ‘Hey LaHood, stick around,'" Shuster told us. Pros get the MT scoop: http://politico.pro/TGdy0F
THE OTHER TAX DEBATE: The income tax is dominating talk in Washington, but there’s another rate on the table that could trim the deficit and produce revenue: the gas tax. The tax — established in 1956 to fund the construction of the Interstate Highway System — has remained unchanged for nearly 20 years, and bumping the 18.4 cents-per-gallon rate hasn’t gained much traction in Congress or at the White House. But as a revenue-raiser independent from income tax rates, it appears the gas tax is still on the table. Most notably, next year’s T&I leaders, Reps. Bill Shuster and Nick Rahall, both refused to rule it out when given a chance.
In their own words: “You’ve got to look at all your options out there. Is it something difficult? Sure. But I think it’s one of those things we need to look at while running through these negotiations,” Shuster said at a briefing after officially nabbing the T&I gavel. “I don’t rule it out of play,” Rep. Nick Rahall told MT. “We can’t go into these negotiations saying, ‘What’s off the table?’” Rep. Peter DeFazio, an outspoken critic of the GOP approach to infrastructure, isn’t optimistic: “I don’t think that would happen,” the Oregonian said. “Remember, [former T&I Chairman Jim] Oberstar’s no longer chairman, and that’s because we didn’t pass a bill. And we didn’t pass a bill because it was pulled by the Obama administration. It was pulled by the Obama administration mostly because they were frightened to death of Oberstar continuing talking about a gas tax increase, which I kept telling him not to do.” Current T&I Chairman John Mica said the tax is “too politically sensitive. Any talk about anything that’s a tax increase would be premature.” Pick up today’s POLITICO paper or click through for the story from Team MT: http://politi.co/SFxWPE
SANDY AID MAY FALL SHORT: States may end up getting a lot less than they’re asking for in Sandy disaster relief — and that could be bad news for infrastructure interests that may have to line up behind other priorities. A House Republican appropriations aide said chatter around how much the White House will request from Congress has veered between $20 billion and $80 billion, but that talks “seem to be coalescing around the $40 to $50 billion mark.” Considering that Northeastern states affected by the storm have requested a combined $80 billion, something’s got to give if that number holds. And that something — at least in the short term — may be funding for transportation systems and other infrastructure damaged by the storm. Kathryn and Jessica have the Pro story: http://politico.pro/TGelP9
T&I MEMBERSHIP STILL IN LIMBO: Two days have passed this week and the Transportation Committee roster is “still being developed,” Shuster told MT. “We’re not fully populated,” he said. Mica said “there’s a little bit more shuffling going on” and that he still isn’t sure where he’s going to end up. He’s said he’s nearly 100 percent focused now on a smooth portrait unveiling (more on that below), not subcommittee chairmanships. “Until tomorrow's over and the last family members are on the plane gone, I'm not going to pay any attention to that. I’m just distracted right now.” Expect a few more days of news trickle, like Jeff Denham’s Tuesday announcement that he’s staying on T&I,
COMMERCE MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Polly Trottenberg, the nominee for DOT undersecretary for policy, and a pair of Amtrak Board of Directors nominees were among the subjects for a Commerce Committee hearing yesterday (though the Amtrak nominees were not present but still talked about). Chairman Jay Rockefeller said the trio will get a committee vote sometime next week, which would get them ready for inclusion in a rumored brewing package of noncontroversial confirmations.
GUARDED: The House takes up the Coast Guard bill (H.R. 2838; text: http://1.usa.gov/Ys6Dgq) today. Technically they’re debating a resolution of concurrence with the Senate’s changes to the bill that first passed the House last year. That’s under suspension of the rules. You know the drill: No amendments, no more than 40 minutes of debate and it needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
A4A NABS ANOTHER FOR PRESS SHOP: Airlines for America announced yesterday that Keith Glatz, senior negotiator for DOT’s Office of International Aviation and Affairs, will move to the airline group to be vice president of international affairs. The group also announced Katie Connell, a former manager of corporate communications for Gannett, as managing director for airline industry public relations and communications. Welcome aboard, Keith and Katie.
CABOOSE — Portrait of a chairman: T&I Chairman Mica’s likeness is guaranteed to be on display in the committee’s Rayburn hearing room for years to come. Today Mica’s portrait is getting hung, and MT sat down with the chairman to talk about his legacy. Don’t expect any long speeches today; Mica said he’s going for the “shortest in history” ceremony. But you don’t have to wait until noon to see a great illustration of the colorful chairman — POLITICO’s Matt Wuerker has his own take on the chairman as part of Burgess’s piece: http://politi.co/SFyfKu
Wall Street Journal: Floods Put Pipelines at Risk
By JACK NICAS
December 4, 2012
A year after floodwaters eroded sections of the Missouri River basin, exposing two petroleum pipelines and triggering their rupture, federal records suggest the same thing could happen to dozens of others. The records highlight a gap in regulations that could imperil pipelines buried beneath rivers nationwide.
Federal investigators plan to announce soon that flood-caused erosion along the riverbed—known as scouring—exposed an Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -0.48% pipeline on the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2011, causing it to break and spill 1,000 barrels of crude, said a senior federal pipeline official speaking on condition of anonymity.
A month later, an Enterprise Products Partners LLP EPD -0.93% pipeline burst after it was exposed by scouring in a Missouri River floodplain in Iowa, spilling 818 barrels of a gasoline additive.
The greater weight and speed of floodwater can scrape dozens of feet of soil and gravel off a river's bed, potentially exposing pipelines and leading to their rupture. Heavy snow and rain last year caused record flooding on the Missouri River basin, which includes the Yellowstone.
In January, Congress ordered a review of pipeline incidents at river crossings to determine if the pipelines' depths were a factor. The study is expected to help lawmakers determine whether regulations should be strengthened.
Meanwhile, even as rivers across the nation's midsection shrunk this year amid a severe drought, new federal records show more pipelines could be at risk during any flooding.
The U.S. Geological Survey found severe scour last year at 27 sites surveyed along the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis, with the riverbed deepened in places by nine to 41 feet. Other unpublished USGS research found more severe scouring upstream.
Of the 55 oil and gas pipelines that cross the Missouri—which runs 2,300 miles from Montana to St. Louis—at least 24 have sections that lie 10 feet or less beneath the riverbed, within the range of scour observed on the river, according to federal records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. During recent inspections, operators discovered at least two of those pipes, in Platte County, Mo. and near Boonville, Mo., were exposed but didn't break.
Federal law requires operators to bury pipelines a minimum of four feet beneath waterways. Many river engineers say that standard is grossly inadequate. A congressional research report this year said the 4-foot minimum "appears to be insufficient to prevent riverbed pipeline exposure."
The federal agency for pipeline safety, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, learned of the pipelines' depths through an optional survey of operators. When operators didn't report the depths of 12 pipelines in the survey, PHMSA said it didn't pursue the matter because it isn't required to track pipeline depths.
Under current rules, PHMSA leaves much of the oversight of pipelines to operators, who are required to inspect river crossings every five years.
"It is the operator's responsibility to weigh and assess the risks associated with its pipeline," PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman testified at a congressional hearing last year on the Exxon spill in Montana. "Especially in [flood conditions]. That is why we kept saying to them, 'You need to check this pipeline out and watch it.'"
In December 2010, in response to concerned PHMSA and Montana officials, Exxon said its pipeline was at least five feet beneath the bed of the Yellowstone River. In June 2011, as the Yellowstone flooded, Exxon told PHMSA the pipeline then had at least 12 feet of cover. A month later, the pipe was exposed by scouring and burst. A PHMSA spokesman said the agency is weighing whether to fine Exxon.
Exxon declined to comment on the cause of the Montana spill because the investigation isn't complete. The company said it is "committed to safe pipeline operations, and we have applied what we have learned into our operations."
Following the Exxon-pipeline rupture, PHMSA and Montana officials pushed pipeline operators to inspect their river crossings in the state. The review found that about a quarter of the roughly 90 pipelines inspected were dangerously close to exposure, said Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and chair of the state's pipeline safety council.
Those findings "tell me that we're vulnerable. But not just in Montana. The whole pipeline system across the country's vulnerable," Mr. Opper said. The pipeline companies are working to rebury the Montana pipelines, he said.
John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, called scouring "a real but rare risk." Operators spent $1.1 billion last year on managing the integrity of their pipelines, he said. Reinstalling shallow pipelines at river crossings across the nation would cost billions of dollars, he said, "and that would be a very high cost to consumers."
In 1994, scouring on a flooded river near Houston exposed 37 pipelines, including eight that broke, spilling 35,000 barrels of petroleum. A decade later, at the urging of federal officials, the American Petroleum Institute developed standards for designing pipelines across waterways and floodplains.
With those standards and new installation methods—horizontally drilling a hole 15 to 60 feet beneath waterways and feeding a pipe through—younger pipelines are less susceptible to scouring. But according to federal documents, nearly two-thirds of the pipelines that cross the Missouri were installed between 1930 and 1982 by digging a ditch, laying the pipe and burying it—a method far more vulnerable to scour.
Those older pipelines are also at risk to the long-term scour occurring along the Missouri riverbed. Scour is typically temporary, with the holes refilled by sediment over time. But since the 1960s, six major dams on the Missouri have held back sediment that would fill in natural scour downstream, leaving the bed 14 feet lower on average than 1940 near Kansas City, the USGS found.
Eden Prairie News: Study: Transportation Investment Could Have $10B Payback
A study commissioned by a group of Twin Cities business leaders estimates that the region could more than double the return on its investment by fully funding the Metropolitan Council’s transportation plan—which includes road and bus upgrades and the addition of two more light rail lines by 2030.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Andrews: Tighter regulation of rail bridge inspections needed
U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews (D., N.J.) called today for stronger federal safety regulation of rail bridges, following the derailment and chemical spill in Paulsboro that has forced the evacuation of about 400 residents.
Htrnews.com: Infrastructure: An Emerging Issue
Public infrastructure — the highways, streets, transit systems and ports, water systems, sanitary and storm sewer systems vital to our everyday life — has been neglected and under-funded for years.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Calls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey for higher gas taxes
Gasoline taxes, unloved by motorists but invaluable for cash-hungry governments, could be raised as states and Congress scramble for more transportation funding.
Chicago Sun-Times: Mayor defends protected bike lanes along Dearborn
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday defended his decision to constrict traffic on a popular street that runs through the heart of Chicago’s congested downtown area — by installing 12 blocks of protected bike lanes along Dearborn between Polk and Kinzie.
Washington Post: O’Malley to talk transportation, other issues with Maryland legislative leaders
With the next legislative session little more than a month away, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has summoned the presiding officers to a meeting Thursday to talk about transportation funding and other possible initiatives.
Public transit users save over $9,381 per year by using public transit instead of driving.