We hear a lot about coal these days in the news.  The current Administration has clearly made making the coal industry happy a major component of its energy policy, along with oil exploration.  Much of the policy has been focused on the USEPA rules and Department of Interior access to public lands and offshore leases for oil drilling as opposed to Department of Energy policies.  The question is whether these policies will matter in the long-term.  World-wide there is a push toward renewable energy.  Oil consumption in the US is 1 million barrels less per day than in 2005, while gas use is up.

Of concern, China is leading the way toward renewable supplies given the impact on air quality that coal imported from the US creates in their major cities (recall the 2 week shutdown of Beijing prior to the 2008 Olympics).  As a result, China is making the advances in solar power that the US hoped to make just a few years ago.  The tariffs imposed on Chinese goods includes a 35% tariff on solar panels, which creates a challenge to the competitiveness of solar power for the near future, but may ultimately put the US further back of the pack with respect to solar research.  In addition, the coal industry employs just over 50,000 people, while the solar industry employees 260,000.  So how will these employees be impacted by the policies proposed by our elected officials?  Why is it that oil and coal can captivate a group of officials so tightly that they ignore the longer term view – while we need oil and gas for now, those are limited fuels and the country with the patents for the next wave of technology, just as is has been for cars, nuclear power, and computers, is the economy that will grow most quickly.  If we do not want to be left behind economically, we need to consider the past experiences.

 

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Speaking of ethics, there has been a lot of discussion about climate changes and the cause (or in some sectors is it real).  It seems to me that the political concern about acknowledging climate change has more to do with the continued use of fossil fuels and coal as much as anything else.  But those who have been around a while can see changes in our lifetime, and opposed to geologic timescales, and that should be a concern. And especially civil engineers need to think about climate changes when designing infrastructure.  And I am not thinking so much about Florida, sea level rise or hurricane intensity.

For example, the recent fires in California remind us that extended drought conditions will exacerbate the potential for forest fires.  With people moving to forested areas, the potential for property damage and life safety issues increase. Forest fires are a fact of life in forests – my grandmother lost her cabin in the woods in 1990 in a forest fire.  However, the real concern is the size of fires is increasing as drought conditions repeat and extend and that they appear to create their own weather patterns that inhibit fire fighting.  One of the first things climate experts have told us we will notice is higher temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.  The fires appear to be climate impacts manifesting in front of us.

When I was growing up, we nearly always had snow for Christmas in northeast Ohio.  That seems to have stopped after 1980.  Now it seems like temperatures are mostly in the 50s for Christmas.  But I have noted that snowfall seems to increase in the February/March timeframe in the Midwest when as a kid March was often the start of spring.  A shift in weather patterns?  The climate is changing in our lifetimes.  That is way faster than it probably should and suggests something is at work that should concern us.

Heat created closures for fishing in the streams of the upper Colorado River (Grand County).  The rivers warmed up and higher temperatures imperil native trout in the river.  Fishing stresses the fish and the higher temperatures were not permitting the stressed, caught fish to recover, and they died.  Temperature also reduces dissolved oxygen levels that worsens the potential for fish to survive.  The temperature issue is exacerbated by drier than normal conditions that reduced streamflow.  This is the second time (2012 was the last) for this to occur.  Again, are we seeing climate change manifest itself in front of us?

Ultimately climate issues should be an ongoing consideration for water managers.  Less water, less snow and lessening glaciers means less water for water supply.  Less water also often leads to higher water temperatures – a water quality concern.  Bacteria rise as do algae in warmed water, confounding water treatment and increasing the potential for taste, odor and biological concerns.  Unfortunately, many utilities do not have plans to address climate impacts.  Sure Portland, Seattle, Denver,  some California utilities and some south Florida utilities might, but there is a large number of smaller utilities in at risk areas that do not have plans in place or have not included potential future water supply challenges in their plans.  Maybe it is time to rethink that.

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In keeping with this day long event that I chaired last year, I pose a question about a practice that I think should concern engineers.   The practice that should be of concern to public officials and engineers is lobbying by engineering companies or their representatives.  I searched a while back for rules on this, and finally found a Florida statute that is appropo – “Chapter 287.055 Acquisition of professional architectural, engineering, landscape architectural, or surveying and mapping services; definitions; procedures; contingent fees prohibited; penalties.”  This statute states that “the agency shall consider such factors as the ability of professional personnel; whether a firm is a certified minority business enterprise; past performance; willingness to meet time and budget requirements; location; recent, current, and projected workloads of the firms; and the volume of work previously awarded to each firm by the agency, with the object of effecting an equitable distribution of contracts among qualified firms, provided such distribution does not violate the principle of selection of the most highly qualified firms.”  Further is notes that each contract entered into by the agency for professional services must contain a prohibition against contingent fees as follows: “The architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) warrants that he or she has not employed or retained any company or person, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper, or professional engineer, as applicable) to solicit or secure this agreement and that he or she has not paid or agreed to pay any person, company, corporation, individual, or firm, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) any fee, commission, percentage, gift, or other consideration contingent upon or resulting from the award or making of this agreement.  It further notes that “Any individual, corporation, partnership, firm, or company, other than a bona fide employee working solely for an architect, professional engineer, or registered land surveyor and mapper, who offers, agrees, or contracts to solicit or secure agency contracts for professional services for any other individual, company, corporation, partnership, or firm and to be paid, or is paid, any fee, commission, percentage, gift, or other consideration contingent upon, or resulting from, the award or the making of a contract for professional services shall, upon conviction in a competent court of this state, be found guilty of a first degree misdemeanor, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”  So why is it that it is increasingly common for big engineering contracts to have lawyers, lobbyists, etc. get involved in what is intended to be a qualifications based selection process?

I would suggest that employing lobbyists and lawyers might violate this statute when those folks are the ones donating to campaigns or increasingly “foundations.”  And it is not like Florida hasn’t had elected officials go to jail and/or be indicted over such issues.  So as the public becomes more aware of these activities, does it move the perception of engineers away from a profession and more towards profession toward developers, lawyers and others who are often seen as less ethical than perhaps engineer, doctors, educators, and scientists?  And if so, is this good for either the engineering profession or the local governments (and their utilities) involved in the selection process?  The comment that “that’s how business get done” is not an acceptable argument when the priority purpose of engineers, and utility operators is the protection of the HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE OF THE PUBLIC.  In many states, qualifications-based selection processes have been enacted for public agencies because getting a professional who has the best qualifications usually means fewer issues arise since they have designed similar projects before and know the pitfalls.  Someone who has not, likely will not which can add unexpected costs to a job.  Just a thought.  Comments?

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Veteran’s day is upon us again.  Today is the day we remember all those who served their country.  2018 is also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.  My grandfather Chase was in the Ardennes is WW1 – stringing wire and scouting German positions.  He got gassed up there.  A quarter if a century later his son was in the Ardennes in the Battle of the Bulge in WW2.  Ultimately his tank brigade rolled up on a German concentration camp, a vision he never forgot and only whispered about in the last few years of his life and only to a couple people.  I was one.  War is hell, and we should honor all our vets.

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South Florida has a house for sale for $159 million.  It has 58,000 sf.  Seriously, 58,000 sf.  That is like a Publix grocery store or half the average Walmart.  Seriously – what does one person do with 58,000 sf?  That was on page 1 of the local section.  On page 2, was a discussion about how cell phones do not reach 911 very quickly because limited funding at the local level.  The weirdness of S. Florida.

Meanwhile, thankfully the election is over, not because of who won or lost but because maybe the endless cell phone spam calls, political action groups mailings, campaign mail, endless texts and non-stop email messages will finally SLOW DOWN – I just know they will not stop but please – I cant get to my actual emails among all this mess.

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