June Newsline: Florida receives Recovery Act funds, court cancels 300 NLRB decisions, Texas Water faces tough decisions

Florida lawmakers secure state’s energy future
Orange County water system wins national civil engineering award
National Energy Board has busiest year

Florida receives Recovery Act Funds for wastewater infrastructure projects

In a move that stands to create jobs, boost local economies, improve aging water infrastructure and protect human health and the environment for the people in the state of Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $132,286,300 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This new infusion of money provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will help the state and local governments finance many of the overdue improvements to wastewater projects that are essential to protecting public health and the environment across the state.

“This award is significant because it marks the first investment of EPA stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to Florida,” said Stan Meiburg, EPA Acting Regional Administrator in Atlanta. “With this investment, we are embarking on an unprecedented effort to protect human health and the environment and create green jobs.”

The Recovery Act funds will go to the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund program provides low interest loans for water quality protection projects for wastewater treatment, non-point source pollution control, and watershed and estuary management.

Tampa, FL, will be the new venue for UCT 2010 (Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exhibition), held Jan. 19-21, at the Tampa Convention Center. Much of the work in this area will be of interest to municipalities, contractors, gas/electric utilities, consulting engineers and damage prevention personnel. For more information about UCT, visit www.uctonline.com.

Appeals Court cancels 300 NLRB decisions

The status of some 300 decisions made last year by the Bush administration’s labor relations board are in legal doubt, with two federal appeals courts issuing vastly different opinions about their validity on the same day.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said on May 1 that all the decisions handed down in 2008 by the National Labor Relations Board are invalid because they were made by just two members. But the U.S. Court of Appeals said in an opinion, issued within the same hour, that the votes by two members were sufficient.

The board is supposed to have five members but it had three vacancies because Democrats who controlled Congress objected to President George W. Bush’s labor policies and refused to confirm his nominees.
With two appeals court decisions at odds, the Supreme Court is more likely weigh in on appeal.

Texas Water Development Board makes tough decisions

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is in the process of reviewing approximately 1,000 applications for the state’s $340 million in economic stimulus funds for drinking water and sewer projects. The TWDB is focusing on shovel ready projects that make an immediate impact on the economy.

Over the next 60-90 days, the staff of the TWDB will be ranking the applications and making their recommendations to the board for approval. The projects are classified into two different categories — drinking water availability and sewage or infrastructure.

A law that makes the decisions more difficult is that 20 percent of the funded projects must be “green”, really impacting the environment or creating more water efficiency. Some of the cities and municipalities are going to have to look elsewhere for funding.

Florida lawmakers secure state’s energy future

Speaker-Designate Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) has unveiled a proposal that would lift the state’s current ban on oil and gas exploration and production in the state waters off Florida’s coast – a move economists say could be worth at least $1.6 billion a year in state revenues and create more than 19,000 jobs.

The measure amended to CS/CS/HB 1219, which was approved by the Policy Council of the Florida House of Representatives, would not immediately trigger energy exploration in state waters. Instead, it would empower the Governor and Cabinet to consider a process for reviewing, approving or rejecting proposals for exploration and production of oil and gas in Florida’s state waters.

With Florida’s coast harboring anywhere from 3 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil, approved oil and gas leases could generate billions of dollars in new annual revenues – without raising new taxes.

As Florida has made nearly $7 billion in budget cuts since 2007, Texas has collected nearly $7 billion in annual oil and gas revenues – revenues that fund significant portions of the state’s public K-12 and state university budgets.

“Floridians continue to suffer from devastating cuts to higher education, environmental protection, health care and vital infrastructure,’ said Martha Barnett, partner at Holland & Knight and past president of the American Bar Association. “For the sake of our state’s future, we cannot delay discussion of this issue any longer, nor ignore the benefits that other states continue to derive from their energy resources.”

Orange County water system wins national civil engineering award

For its creative, effective solution to water shortage challenges, the Orange County, CA, Groundwater Replenishment System (GWR) has been selected as the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement for 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. With water demand rising in southern California, Orange County needed a solution that was more cost-effective than importing water or desalination and would satisfy needs for future generations. The county’s Water and Sanitation District opted for a process that recycles and purifies wastewater and returns it to reservoirs and groundwater aquifers – one which also mitigates the impact of droughts. (As reported in the March 2009 issue, pg. 5 of Underground Construction, “Converting sewage to drinking water”.).

ASCE President Wayne Klotz calls the system “an excellent example of how civil engineering can contribute to a community’s economic success, improve residents’ quality of life and protect public safety.” The award was presented to Orange County water officials at the Society’s OPAL Gala in Arlington, VA.

National Energy Board has busiest year

The National Energy Board’s (NEB) 2008 Annual Report has received more applications and presided over more public hearings in 2008 than any other year in NEB history.

The NEB considered applications for new pipeline facilities, tolls and tariffs filings, activities on frontier lands, as well as export and import licenses, and orders. A number of applications to expand the capacity of the oil pipeline system were also considered by the NEB. In total, there were 17 public proceedings in 2008.

Spurred by record high oil and gas prices, over $127 billion worth of crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas liquids and natural gas was shipped through NEB-regulated pipelines in 2008. In addition, NEB-regulated international power lines transported over $3 billion of electricity, demonstrating the economic value that pipeline and power transmission systems bring to Canadians.

The report outlined how a busier pipeline construction year led to a corresponding increase in safety incidents. NEB inspectors doubled their compliance monitoring activities, performing audits, inspections and investigations.

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