Government Affairs

FHWA Roundtable Discussion Draws Attention to Sustainability Needs

The FHWA Sustainable Pavements Technical Working Group (SPTWG) met on June 3 and the virtual roundtable discussion presented what organizers called a guided exploration of what the FHWA’s Sustainable Pavements Program has accomplished over the last 10 years.

The web conference also explored how the current situation may be affecting implementation efforts, and what we can do in the future to continue advancing the program’s goals. Much of the discussion focused on progress with the development and use of Environmental Product Declarations* and an update on the FHWA life cycle assessment (LCA) tool.

“The SPWG represents a broad cross-section of the pavement community – agency, industry, academia, consultants, etc.,” says Leif Wathne, who represented ACPA and the concrete pavement industry.  “The group allows for honest and spirited exchanges and has made progress increasing the visibility of sustainable practices and in raising awareness about life cycle assessment, including the very important use-phase.”

“Even, so we are still not focusing appropriately on some primary drivers,” he says, noting that the current economic realities, increased attention among lawmakers, and other factors will continue to influence decision-making.

“The current economic realities mirror those of the Great Recession of 2007.  Sustainability efforts lost some steam because economic realities caused first cost to dominate,” he says, adding, “in addition, there are political obstacles that sometimes hamper progress on sustainability efforts. In the near term, it may make sense to shift toward a focus on the economic aspects of sustainability – as economic messages still very much resonate, and economically sustainable practices are typically also environmentally sustainable.  Also, we anticipate a gradual shift toward resilience. As resilience is tied very closely to economic sustainability and responsible resource use (i.e., environmental sustainability).”

“Although we are encouraged by FHWA’s continued focus on life cycle thinking, our industry continues to be somewhat concerned about FHWA launching an LCA tool that omits use-phase impacts, which in some cases can be quite dominant, particularly as there are already other pavement LCA tools available that do factor in use-phase impacts,” he says. Leif cautioned that the FHWA must make it “abundantly clear to the user that the use-phase is not included in its LCA tool, and must guide the user to understand that the LCA tool can be used only for a very narrow set of circumstances.”

The LCA 2020 conference originally scheduled for last week has been postponed until January 13-15, 2021, in Davis, CA.

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* Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) provides quantifiable environmental data to compare products that fulfill the same function. In order to create comparable EPDs, they must follow the rules and guidelines called for in the associated Product category rules (PCRs), which are a set of specific rules, requirements, and guidelines, for developing environmental declarations for one or more products that can fulfill equivalent functions.

T&I Committee Chair Releases Surface Transportation Reauthorization Language

House T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) today released the text of the much-anticipated surface transportation reauthorization, known as the INVEST in America Act, according to information provided by ACPA legislative consultants Ed Graber and Chad Bradley. This is a five-year, $494 billion package built largely on the framework he released in January. (Click here to see related story.)

According to sources with the committee, there are three main titles, with topline funding amounts of $319 billion for highways, $105 billion for transit, and $60 billion for rail. This represents an increase in highway funding of roughly 46%.

The major themes of the bill are state of good repair, safety and climate mitigation, and resiliency.

For the Highways title, FY 2021 would see an extension of current policies under current law, though the boosted funding levels in the bill allow continued recovery from COVID-19 rather than a mandate to stand up new programs while agencies are still recovering. There will also be new eligibilities to help with recovery like allowing funds for operations and administrative expenses, as well as 100% federal cost share (i.e. waiving state-match requirements).

Starting in FY 2021, the new programs and policies that would take effect, include:

  • Significant changes to highway grant programs, though formulas are the same.
  • Dedicated bridge investment program, 20% of the highway formula or about $28 billion.
  • Changes to the national highway performance program to put more focus on state of good repair.
  • A doubling of funds for vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and a focus on cybersecurity to push pilots toward implementation. The bill also includes a new national 50-state VMT pilot program to research alternative funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

There is also a series of climate change provisions throughout the measure, including:

  • A new apportionment program, with one part focused on climate change mitigation and another on resiliency.
  • A resiliency program funded at S6.25 billion. A natural infrastructure component would be added to eligibility.
  • Pollution reduction and resiliency woven into the project planning process.
  • Funding for new research into green highway materials.
  • Policies supporting complete streets.

The committee tentatively plans to mark up the bill June 17. It is worth noting that T&I majority have not yet shared details on the bill’s policies or timing with their Republican counterparts, nor has the Ways and Means Committee decided how it will pay for the bill.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), in a ‘dear colleague’ letter dated May 29th indicated that surface transportation legislation is among several must-pass bills slated for consideration on the floor in late June through July.

We will keep you apprised as more details are made available. We consider it a good sign that the House is prioritizing a surface transportation bill this summer.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

President Orders Federal Agencies to Remove Regulatory Barriers

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use maximum effort to eliminate regulatory barriers that could slow recovery of the U.S. economy from its pandemic-induced slump, according to ARTBA’s Washington Newsline.

The “Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery” order says “agencies should address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities and operational feasibility.”

 The order also makes several significant changes to regulatory policy, including:

  • Directing all agencies to consider adopting a “good faith” standard for regulatory enforcement actions;
  • Stating that non-adherence to agency guidance should not be the sole reason for an agency enforcement action;
  • Shifting the burden of proof to the government for regulatory compliance; subjects of enforcement actions would not “bear the burden” of proving compliance; and
  • Affording subjects of any enforcement action an opportunity to respond before any enforcement action.

Individual agencies are likely to implement the order in different ways. The Office of Management and Budget will monitor compliance and issue additional details.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

OSHA Releases Revised Coronavirus Recording Guidance

On May 19, 2020, OSHA released its Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus that it began enforcing last week, according to a recent issue of PCA’s “This Week in Washington” newsletter.

Along with the new guidance, OSHA also released an Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan.

Based on the Enforcement Guidance, OSHA will enforce recordkeeping requirements for recording cases of COVID-19 at the workplace as a reportable illness, and employers must record work-related cases of the novel coronavirus.

Recognizing that it is still extremely difficult to determine whether a case of COVID-19 is work-related, OSHA will use its enforcement discretion to assess whether employers made a reasonable and good faith determination of work-relatedness based on available evidence.

Under OSHA’s Enforcement Response Plan, the agency will increase in-person inspections at all workplaces. However, OSHA will continue to prioritize COVID-related inspections and workplaces deemed by OSHA as a high or very high-risk type, for example, hospitals, emergency medical centers, and emergency response facilities. Construction operations subject to OSHA rules are likely to fall into the lower exposure risk category.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

Permitting Council Issues Annual Report on Infrastructure

The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council) issued its Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2019, showcasing another year of success in reducing costs and timelines for permitting infrastructure projects that fuel America’s job market and economy.

In the report, Executive Director Alexander Herrgott, reports, “President Trump inherited a fragmented Federal process for authorizing infrastructure projects, fraught with unnecessary costs, delays, and uncertainty.

“As this annual report demonstrates, the Permitting Council plays a vital role in President Trump’s commitment to cutting red tape and delivering infrastructure that America’s communities and businesses need now more than ever. The Permitting Council has helped reduce delays, costs, and uncertainty for these vital infrastructure projects, while ensuring environmental protection,” he says.

“This year alone we reduced environmental review times for projects covered by the Council by an average of 1.5 years, supported the creation of more than 127,000 temporary construction jobs and over 3,000 permanent jobs across the country. We estimate that if Federal agencies complete all Federal permitting decisions that are achievable for Council-managed projects in the next 365 days, the result will be $56 billion in new infrastructure investment and over 40,000 new construction-related jobs,” he adds.

Click here to see a fact sheet from the Permitting Council.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

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