Don Marsh, Editor, [email protected]
Aggressive measures lawmakers and regulators advanced this past month enable historic expansion of the federal government's role in concrete and cement. As a kick to the industry when it's down, Congress moved on the American Clean Energy and Security Act and Clean Water Restoration Act, while the Environmental Protection Agency weighed stringent new air-pollutant standards. The legislation and rule changes raise costs for raw material and ready mixed or precast plant operation. Overall, their impact is to further hamstring companies who continue to invest tens of millions annually to comply with existing water and air quality regulations.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee proposed a greater federal role in the Clean Water Act (CWA) by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act. It encompasses all wet areas in a concrete operation Û hence, groundwater, wash-out ponds, settlement basins and water-reclaiming facilities. According to National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the Restoration Act's loosely defined new terms hold unnecessary and overreaching regulatory implications that could adversely affect ready mixed concrete plants, trucks and operations. Many activities not previously regulated would require federal permits, which, in turn, would be subject to challenge in federal court.
Acting almost in tandem with the EPW Committee, the EPA held three mid-June hearings to gather comments on a proposed hazardous air-pollutant regulation that would spur costly cement plant upgrades. The regulation undermines the balance between environmental protection and economic viability, Portland Cement Association contends, and potentially forces U.S. concrete producers to turn to foreign powder sources. Pushing cement production to other countries would ÎOPECÌ the industry and make the U.S. dependent on cement imports, said Andy O'Hare, PCA vice president for regulatory affairs.
Financial fallout from changes in EPA rules and CWA scope would likely be small when measured over the long term against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Critics of the legislation, which passed the U.S. House in late June and foreshadows steep future taxes (note chart, page 8) on portland cement and other products of energy-intensive processing, guarantee a rough ride in the Senate later this year. Authors Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) outline an emissions-trading program geared to sharply reduce the volume of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuel combustion. Widely dubbed Îcap-and-tradeÌ, the program would force cement, steel and energy producers to purchase credits allowing greenhouse gas emissions. Federal bureaucrats would gradually shrink the country's total emissions pool toward key Waxman-Markey targets, set against net U.S. emissions in 2005: 17 percent reduction by 2020, 83 percent by 2050.
Following the 219-212 vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner (D-OH) characterized the Act a national energy tax and bureaucratic nightmare that will cost families more than ever for electricity, gasoline, and other products, and millions of American workers their jobs÷a tax on anyone who drives a car, buys an American-made product, or flips on a light switch.
Waxman-Markey has no future in the Senate, and with any luck this first victory for energy-rationing legislation will be the last, said Competitive Enterprise Institute Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy Myron Ebell.
Recent summers have brought cement and diesel fuel price spikes. Spikes in operating costs attributable to bills and rule changes now circulating in the halls of federal power could aggravate the current business drop Û described by many in construction materials as the worst they've ever seen Û and drive construction costs perpetually higher for decades.