The concept of regulations is to address problems. All regulations are based on trying to correct a problem that has already occurred. We have rules that were developed to try to address contaminants in water, and rules designed to address a variety of potential threat to water supplies. In a blog over a year ago I asked the question, in light of the mess in West Virginia, why do we permit power companies to store coal ash next to streams? This is a huge potential health impact to water customers, as well as to the ecosystem that we rely on to protect water supplies in natural areas. A 20 year old Congressional Act did sorta prohibit the discharge of coal ash to streams from mining, but did not address storage where the accidents actually occur. So we have rules that didn’t remove the piles from the banks, and didn’t offer a solution to remove it which would have been the appropriate regulatory response. We should all be on the bandwagon that urges Congress to require power companies to properly dispose of this stuff, and to provide a means to do so.
However, in classic “Failure to Learn from the Past” mode, instead we get a directive in Washington to review the rollback of the stream rule that was developed to address a 20 year old lawsuit over stream protections and “waters of the US.” That revised stream rule got held up in 2015 by litigation (EPA Secretary Pruitt led one of those suits), and while the directive is not exactly allowing coal ash into streams as noted in the media, it does give you the sense that there will not be any effort to address this problem. That should concern water industry leaders.
The first piece of legislation approved by Congress in 2017:
We have big issues. Wolves are not one of them. Nor are bears. We should be concerned. And lower our expectations so we will not be disappointed.
Not only did FAU host the ASCE southeast regional competition in March, but I have had a big deadline – my next book is due the end of this month to the publisher. That has taken a lot of time, and I have had several issues divert my attention at critical junctures. Fortunately the book is nearly complete. I should meet the deadline. This book should be topical. It is about infrastructure management. JRoss is the published and with a little luck it will be out in time for the holiday sin 2017. Very good stuff. The first part of the book focuses on the benefits=of infrastructure tot eh economy. They are intrinsically lined although there is an interesting research project needed to study how much infrastructure creates economic growth and how much growth requires more investments. Is there a point of diminishing returns. Paul Krugman may want to weigh in as I did quote him a couple times. Then the local systems are discussed – what can happen, maintenance needs etc. Water, sewer, stormwater roads are featured. Lots of pictures and some means to autopsy the issues. The rest of the book looks are how to develop a system to manage the assets, value them, evaluate condition and fund improvements. Work order are really important for causal factors. What fails, and how often. I think we can predict the problems. My initial analysis, included in the book says we can with limited data. Going back to those Bayesian roots. Another project I would like to look at. Finding the next Flint is a third project. So many ideas, so little time (and no money to get support). The solutions will involve leadership, so I did insert some future risks and past “what could possible go wrong” issues. Sorry Flint, you made the cut, but so did Alamosa, Walkerton, midwestern power companies, and my friends in St. Pete. But instructively I hope. The book is aimed at professionals, but a student teaching guide will be developed this summer for use in the classroom. Should be fun. 700+ references. And I could add so much more, but I think it will diminish the usefulness. No doubt it will make the best seller list – looking forward to my name on the NY Times best seller list. LOL. Or at least sell enough copies to make JRoss interested in another book. But seriously it should prove interesting.
Welcome to Kansas, the bastion of how not to run a state, but claim things are just dandy. I noted in a prior blog that Kansas has no reserves. And apparently a $350 million deficit in 2016, a continuing trend for a number of years now. And bigger deficits to come. Kansas is the poster child of why cutting taxes a lot does not work.
How did they get here? The state governor and legislature decided that cutting taxes spurs economic growth. So if you cut a lot of taxes, you get lots of growth. They cite the Laffer curve, a totally discredited economic tool drawn on the back of a napkin by Arthur Laffer at a 1974 dinner to argue why Gerald Ford should not raise taxes. On the face of it it makes no sense but that has not stopped supply side politicians from using it for nearly 40 years to cut taxes. The problem, it is wrong.
Cutting taxes does not spur enough economic growth to make up for the loss in taxes when you go down the Kansas role. If you s cut them too much, it is really hard to raise them if you run short. The result is that economic growth in most of Kansas will be stunted for years due to the lack of investment in Kansans. Now you would think that Kansans would be up in arms about the poor stewardship by elected officials. But no. See if you get constant bad news, just stop reporting revenues and deficits. No news is good news right? Welcome to Kansas!
Congratulations to the students that presented Last Night in Little Havana! Good job!
Our Department is co-sponsored, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a community meeting to look at the work of two groups of our senior design students who have been working with the community and a developer on a means to identify acceptable projects for the Little Havana neighborhood. The event was held in Little Havana at the Ball & Chain, which provided the use of the back patio and the stage at no charge. The Mayor of Miami opened the “Community Discussion,” to discuss the work of the FAU students. The National Trust sent a senior staff member from New York to participate in the Discussion.
For many years there has been public and private argument about the future vision for Little Havana. Yet, in many instances there has been little graphic presentation of the components of a vision. The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Little Havana as the 11th most endangered site in America. The work of these students provides possible templates for mixed-use and multi-family residential development, proposals that now show what can be designed and built under current rules and regulations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation co-sponsored this community discussion to share their philosophy on urban revitalization, and as a continuation of their commitment to Little Havana — by helping the community respond to actual designs and through dialogue, hopefully reach a consensus over the next few months that will move the revitalization efforts forward in a positive manner for all stakeholders.
The students provided extensive graphics and can give you excellent options to provide visual elements to the story. This presentation marked the mid-way point of student efforts, and provided stake holders with the opportunity to review initial concepts and to comment on the proposals. Participants saw what is allowed under current land development regulations and have the opportunity to discuss changes needed to protect Little Havana’s character. In addition, students were seeking continuing input during the Spring semester as designs are modified to address concerns of the community.
Good job students. And thank you Frank Schnidman for setting this up!
As 2017 gets rolling, we are set to swear in a new President. The politics are already interesting. The question is what will change, when and how. For example there has been an ongoing discussion of infrastructure bills, but aside from WITAF approval, little clear direction has been forthcoming. We only know that private sector participation will be encouraged. Of course virtually all projects constructed in the public sector are constructed by private contractors, so how/if that will change is unclear.
It is also unclear which industries will be affected. There are already comments about not pursuing he renewable energy opportunities – China sees 13 million jobs in the coming 5 years as their economy cranks up to meet the needs. They are contributing $360 billion to enhance this sector. I have previously blogged about potential opportunities in the US to grow renewables. But they are just like recycling in the 1970s. Recycling needed to be subsidized until such time as the facilities and processes were in place to make it competitive. Now for steel and aluminum, it is less costly than virgin iron or bauxite. That has several benefits to the economy and the environment.
I have previously suggested that those who do the research, develop the solutions and control the patents tend to rule the economy. The US did in throughout the 20th century. Energy is the 21st century opportunity and I would hope we don’t cede that elsewhere due to politics. 13 million jobs would really help places in rural America and place like Detroit and Flint which have the workers. It may be that instead of the federal government doing much in this arena, the state and local officials will lead the charge. California has been successful to a degree in this regard. Let’s see if making money will “trump” the politics of oil. That would be good for a lot of local governments that have workers and factories, but not jobs. That would help people like those in Flint. And it would help their utilities. Let’s work on this with our local officials
Many communities that have issue with older infrastructure may suffer from loss of economic opportunities (Flint, Detroit, Cleveland). This compounds the problem with local capacity for maintenance and report of infrastructure. Many of these issues result from the lack of funding due to the unwillingness of local officials to raise water rates and address hidden infrastructure. Others may feel limited due to the loss of economic activity – Rust Belt cities and the northeast are older; inner cities may be more impacted. Different areas of the country will have different needs and maybe different magnitudes of need. Rural communities may not have funding to replace infrastructure. The first community that abandoned their system was rural. Newer communities with newer pipe will have far less needs today, but few are taking steps to avoid the infrastructure pitfalls that have hit older communities. Ultimately these conditions make for a huge backlog of deferred infrastructure investments, mostly in pipe and service lines beneath roads. The only good news is that by correcting the piping, much of the roadway base issues could also be resolved concurrently.
A concurrent problem in the communities hardest hit with infrastructure issues is often that there is pool of skilled labor, but said labor may not be skilled in areas to address their own infrastructure problems. Likewise youths may be challenged to find work local. The solution to both issues may be similar to that posed by the CETA programs in the late 1970s. In those programs local and state governments were given funds to hire staff to be trained for certain jobs, with the intention that these trained workers would become part of a permanent, expanded workforce. A similar solution today as a part of an infrastructure bill could be to provide local and state governments for funding for personnel to be trained to perform such work. The workers could receive training on safety, OSHA issues, and equipment from a local community college or university that would be paid for by the infrastructure bill. These same people would then be hired by local governments to perform rehabilitation and replacement work, fully funded initially by the federal government s but with an anticipated transition period where by 10 years out, the workforce could be demonstrated to have been expended as a result of the program.
Note that hiring by local governments is a key. Private sector hiring tends to be job specific and the jobs disappear when the activity moves or ceases. Hence finding the private sector likely leads only to a temporary increase in labor development. Local government hiring would more likely increase permanent employment. The local agencies would need to be given an incentive to encourage this since far too many elected officials see government employment as a negative thing. This is partly why we have the infrastructure quagmire today. That attitude needs to change.
The private sector will want their share, and privatization is a confounding issue because people get laid off through privatization and indications are that the middle class gets hurt by privatization (lower wages for the same job). But the public sector does not manufacture pipe, equipment like backhoes and rollers and other materials would be paid to private vendors in accordance with local and state bid rules. That would move monies for capital to private vendors. For large projects the work rules could be applied to contractors much like the ARRA funding requirements – shovel ready and US materials and newly trained staff making up a portion of the work force. That would meet the tenets of local jobs, fixing local problems with federal dollars for a period of time, perhaps as a mix of grants and low interest loans.
At least 20 years of infrastructure needs exist. Hence the longer term program could be sustained. A funding mechanism is in place via state revolving fund programs for a portion of the effort, much like the water, sewer and stormwater funds were channeled through the SRF programs under the ARRA program. WIFIA and other programs could be used as a dispersal agent, so new bureaucracies would not need to be created. A prior pattern for implementation is in place and would just need to be “dusted” off an updated. Bi-partisan support enacted these program in the past and it would seem this would be good for all.
The potential for concern would be raised by private utilities (power, cable, telephone and private water and sewer utilities) which would be effectively shut out of funding, but they are private entities and they have the ability to raise funds on the private equity market. Capitalism will work well for these organizations, but it does not for most local public works infrastructure systems. That is why they are public, not private. Some local governments would resist the requirement to expand the workforce – but that is their choice – a requirement to participate is not implied just as it is not with SRF funds. Local business communities would likely drive the effort to be involved.
So now we wait and see if anything happens……
The election and post-election discussions have included some concepts about funding for infrastructure. While this may have been more focused had Clinton been elected, it remains a discussion topic in the Trump White House. How it would be manifested is a question, with Trump’s faction discussion private cash influxes to make this happen. The Senate seems to view infrastructure as DOA, which means nothing might occur. However, in any instances, there needs to be a definition of the word infrastructure and what would qualify for funding. There are three basic types of infrastructure – public, private and regulated private. Most SRF programs limit recipients of funding to public entities.
The infrastructure in the public arena falls into three categories which have vastly different types of infrastructures:
Local – water, sewer, stormwater/drainage, local roads, limited bridges. In larger communities, rail and airports might be included, but the latter is mostly federal subsidies. Much of water and sewer infrastructure is over 50 years old and is showing signs of weakening. Buried pipelines are the most at risk. This would include the 6 million lead services lines in place. Sewer lines are primarily vitrified clay, also 50+ years old and likely cracked. Stormwater is corrugated metal and concrete. Roadway bases in most communities are historical and do not meet today’s standards. Hence ASCE rates these a D or D-. Municipal buildings in older communities may also have lead services, asbestos, wood and galvanized pipelines, and other issues to address. The majority of infrastructure under this definition is under local control.
State – highways and bridges – much of America’s commerce depends on these roadways. 25% of bridges need work, 10% are deficient. Funding for rail and airports is a need from a state perspective. States may spend more money on transportation that all other infrastructure combined.
Federal – these are very large scale projects like dikes, dams, reservoirs and water transmission systems. It also includes national parks ($11 billion deficiency), and federal buildings. The dikes in New Orleans are an example. However a lot of the funds for these projects are disseminated to locals (like New Orleans), so the actual use may be unclear.
The literature suggests that public investments in infrastructure create at least a 4:1 return. Good infrastructure is necessary for a vibrant economy. Deteriorating infrastructure leads to …. Flint, New Orleans after Katrina, and a host of obvious failures. The impact of climate on communities, particularly sea level rise, can be partially addressed with infrastructure improvements. Large scale construction can secure jobs both immediately and for the foreseeable future. The question then is how to secure finding that will lead to jobs, lead to economic development and return on those investments, and will make notable improvements. That is the challenge at all three levels. The easiest to address from a sill perspective is state roads and local infrastructure. From a state perspective the work is focused on highways and transportation. Locally, the benefit is the local labor force that requires no travel or added overhead. Just training. So the question is whether an infrastructure bill can/should have a jobs component built in?
I have been saying this for a number of years – China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Immigrants didn’t take our jobs. Robots did. And now Paul Wiseman agrees:
We make more cars in the US today than in the 1970s, with 1/3 of the labor force, mostly with robots. We make more steel in the US today that in the heyday of the steel towns of Pittsburgh and Bethlehem because of robots and small scale recycle pug mills. What’s more, industrial experts think the US, not China, will be the most manufacturing competitive country in the world because the costs to manufacture are cheaper due to automation (a fancy word for robots).
Ok, wait, isn’t unemployment now under 5% and we have had 70+months of continuous job increases? How is that possible? Companies want to cut costs. Labor is easy when that labor can be replaced by robots. The trend will continue. Automatic driving trains are real. Automated trucks are coming – billions are being put into truck automation to reduce the 1.4 million truckers to as close to zero as possible, saving 1/3 the cost of transportation. But automation does not mean less jobs – there are needs for higher tech jobs to maintain the robots. And the ability to cut costs in one area means more income to spend on others, increasing jobs in other areas. So in reality there are more, higher skill jobs out there.
More to come, but maybe we are now starting to understand what is meant by the “new” economy and how that might transfer to the water industry..