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Bush Administration Plays Highway Proposal SAFE

BY CY MALLOY

Concrete Products, Jun 1, 2003

Brought to you by:The White House formalized its proposed plan for reauthorizing the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century last month. Concurrent with the Political Partners for Concrete Results Conference (note Editorial, page 4), U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta hosted a May 14 briefing to unveil a six-year, $247 billion proposal, “The Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003,” to carry the federal highway program past TEA-21. SAFETEA more than doubles funding for highway safety over levels provided in TEA-21, the Administration contends, and serves as a framework for investment needed to maintain and grow the nation's vital transportation infrastructure.

SAFETEA rounds out the field of three proposals the federal construction lobby has anticipated as Congressional committees approach the thick of TEA-21 reauthorization. Against the White House's $247 billion plan are the Senate's, calling for $255 billion, and the House's $375 billion package noted above. The Administration's SAFETEA proposal is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/reauthorization/safeteaWATER WORKS

While much of the federal construction lobby's attention is focused on TEA-21 reauthorization, members of the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) continue to pursue umbrella legislation for Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water program. In the House, WIN reports, Water Resources Subcommittee Chairman Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) have introduced the Water Quality Financing Act of 2003 — H.R. 1560 — authorizing $20 billion over five years in federal assistance through State Revolving Loan Funds. The sponsors planned to mark up the bill following the Congressional recess. As the second order of business, updates were received on the current House (H.R. 20) and Senate (S. 170) water bills. Third, it was agreed that this year's final bills should include a study provision to uncover various ideas for creating a sustainable trust fund.

Chaired by the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), along with design professionals, manufacturers and suppliers as well as other professional organization members, the Clean Water Council (CWC) commended Reps. Duncan and Young for their leadership in introducing H.R. 1560. The final FY '04 budget resolution approved by Congress on April 11 did not include a provision adopted by the Senate to increase funding for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The Senate's original version of the budget resolution, passed March 26 by a 56-44 vote, included an amendment offered by Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID) adding $3 billion to the $2.2 billion currently available. The House approved the conference report for the budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 95), which did not include additional infrastructure funding, by a 216-211 vote April 11. Later that day, the Senate approved the conference report 51-50, with Vice President Cheney casting the deciding vote.

Water Environment Federation

WEF conducted its annual Washington briefing, “Continued Progress and New Perspectives,” early this spring at the Hotel Washington in Washington, D.C. During an afternoon keynote address, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Tracy Mehan stated that the draft proposed rule to minimize sanitary sewer overflows is a “nonstarter” until EPA resolves issues surrounding a policy on blending wastewater treatment flows.

According to Mehan, the Office of Water and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance are conducting internal discussions on the blending guidance, but both offices “agree it is time to move from ad hoc enforcement discretion” to a more consistent enforcement approach. However, until issues related to blending are resolved, EPA does not plan to move forward on the draft SSO proposal. Mehan also reported that total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), watershed permitting, and water-quality trading are the agency's top priorities to advance implementation of the watershed management approach. Citing monitoring as another major priority for the Office of Water, Mehan said that EPA is considering start up of a water monitoring council.

In a keynote address to the WEF gathering, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) requested support for his FY ‘04 budget amendment to provide an additional $3 billion for water infrastructure. The budget resolution proposes that the additional $3 billion be offset by unspecified budget cuts across various programs.

Safe Drinking Water/SRF Funding

The allotment of EPA grants for state Revolving Fund loans is derived from state drinking water needs identified in the most recent Drinking Water Needs Survey. Results from the second Needs Survey were published in February 2001. Each state must receive a minimum of 1 percent of the national appropriation available to states. EPA will notify each state of its allotment from a specific fiscal year's appropriation after the final budget has been passed. The FY 2002 appropriation was $850 million. Reflecting an agency budget reduction of 0.65 percent, the FY 2003 allotment of $850 million was decreased to $844,475,000. The amount available to states from the national appropriation is reduced through national set-asides, including funds for American Indian and Alaska Native Village water systems at a level of 1.5 percent of the total appropriation.

FEDERAL AGENCIES Environmental Protection Agency

As part of the ongoing celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, EPA has released a CD-based outreach kit to help communities implement the new requirements of the Phase II NPDES storm water regulations. The kit includes a variety of materials for homeowners, construction site operators, children and businesses. Local officials can use the Storm water Month CD to customize these materials with their agency's name, address, and phone number so that citizens will know where to turn for more information. Further details may be found by visiting www.epa.gov and clicking on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

With respect to funding, the EPA web site states: “Drinking water and wastewater systems, local regulators, the states, and the Federal government will face many challenges over the next 20 years as they try to meet the nation's water infrastructure investment need. Innovative responses are needed by both water systems, government authorities and consumers to close the gap.”

Economic Development Administration

The U.S. Dept of Commerce's EDA has been appropriated nearly $204 million for FY '03. EDA will provide public works investments to support the construction or rehabilitation of essential public infrastructure and development facilities necessary to generate private sector jobs and investment, including investments that support technology-led development, redevelopment of brownfield sites, and eco-industrial development. A detailed list of EDA reps in each market can be found at www.eda.doc.gov.

Federal Highway Administration

The following assessment appears in FHWA's report to Congress, Chapter 7: Capital Investment Requirements — Highway and Bridge: “The average annual cost to improve highways and bridges for the 20-year period 2001-2020 is projected to be $106.9 billion. This represents the investment by all levels of government required to implement all cost-beneficial improvements on highways and bridges. This level of investment would address the existing backlog of highway ($271.7 billion) and bridge ($54.7 billion) deficiencies, as well as new deficiencies as they arise during the 20-year period, when it is cost-beneficial to do so.”

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