Friday, September 21, 2007

Inhofe Welcomes Freeman Before EPW Committee

September 19, 2007
 
On Wednesday, September 19, 2007, Senator Inhofe  thanked Mr. Joe Freeman, Chief of the Financial Assistance Division of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, for his testimony before the EPW Committee. Mr. Freeman is the Vice President of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities (CIFA). CIFA is the national organization of state officials involved in the financing of water and wastewater pollution control projects. CIFA members are responsible for management of the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Senator Inhofe invited Mr. Freeman to testify before the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality hearing titled, “Meeting America’s Wastewater Infrastructure Needs in the 21st Century.”
 

  

 Mr. Joe Freeman, Right, Testifies Before the EPW Committee

"I was pleased to welcome Mr. Freeman before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today," Senator Inhofe said. "Mr. Freeman provided the EPW Committee valuable perspective regarding the challenges facing water infrastructure systems in Oklahoma and across the nation.  He expressed the importance of the Revolving Loan Fund to Oklahoma’s communities and explained to the Committee the financial benefits municipalities get from using the SRF.  He noted that Tulsa, OK will save $59 million over 5 years by using the SRF.   He also emphasized the need to maintain a program free of too many extra requirements that make the program too complicated for towns, particularly small towns, to use.

"These issues are important to me because Oklahoma has projected $586 million in clean water related needs over the next 20 years.  Further, in the last drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma’s reported needs were $4.8 billion over the next 20 years.  Importantly $107 million of that need is known to be a direct result of federal drinking water requirements.  Without providing sufficient federal funds to help cities to meet those requirements, they become not just requirements, but federal unfunded mandates. 

"As the single most conservative member of the Senate, as voted by the American Conservative Union, I have consistently advocated for developing and improving the nation’s infrastructure and providing for our nation’s defense.  That is why, as chairman of this committee during the past two Congresses, I twice moved comprehensive legislation that reauthorized both the clean water and drinking water State Revolving Loan Funds. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Committee to develop a clean, comprehensive funding proposal in the near future.”

Highlights from Mr. Freeman’s EPW Committee Testimony

“While the progress made by States and the Federal government working in partnership to address water quality challenges has been considerable, it is hardly sufficient to meet the overwhelming need.  All evidence points to a “Gap” that is large and growing. A survey of state CWSRF programs undertaken by CIFA in 2005 identified over 2,000 projects seeking loans requiring almost $9 billion in funding. In my state the city of Tulsa alone has needs of an estimated $194 million over the next five years. It is clear that at current funding levels a great many needed projects are not going to move forward anytime soon…

“Let me turn to a few specific examples of what is being accomplished in my State of Oklahoma: Since 1999, Oklahoma has made over $324 million available in DWSRF funding. Our DWSRF loan to Bartlesville, used to construct a 26 million gallon per day treatment plant, allowed the city to realize cost savings of almost $14 million, nearly a third of the total project cost. The Lawton Water Authority will experience similar savings as it constructs a water treatment plant with a capacity of 40 million gallons per day. Our largest borrower is the City of Tulsa which is using the CWSRF program to implement a Comprehensive Wastewater Plan to rehabilitate aging infrastructure, meet capacity needs and comply with discharge permit requirements. By using the CWSRF, it is estimated Tulsa will save $59 million over five years. As these projects illustrate, the State Revolving Funds are playing a vital role in helping Oklahoma communities improve water quality…

“We have long sought SRF reauthorization legislation.  We feel funding levels and program operations have suffered from the failure to reauthorize the CWSRF and that  reauthorization will deliver a strong message that Congress remains committed to the State Revolving Funds.  However, we see little benefit from legislation that will hamper our flexibility and burden the communities we serve with barriers to their participation….”

 

Opening Statement: Meeting America's Wastewater Infrastructure Needs in the 21st Century

September 19, 2007

I would like to thank Senator Lautenberg for having this long overdue hearing.  As Chairman of this Committee during the past two Congresses, I twice moved comprehensive legislation that reauthorized both the clean water and drinking water state revolving loan funds.  I am pleased to see this issue remains a Committee priority.

I am glad to welcome Mr. Joe Freeman, Chief of the Financial Assistance Division for the State of Oklahoma .  Mr. Freeman has been a great resource to my staff and I welcome his insights into how the program is currently working and what we may do to make it better.  I am also pleased that the National Rural Water Association, based in Oklahoma, is represented today by the Louisiana chapter.  The majority of the nation’s wastewater systems are small systems and theirs is a perspective from which we can all benefit hearing.

The Clean Water SRF is the cornerstone of federal clean water assistance to the nation’s cities and towns.  Since its creation in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has saved its borrowers over $3.7 billion in interest costs and also provided $8.2 billion in funding to improve the nation’s water quality.  Importantly, the federal government has provided $24 billion in state capitalization grants.  In 2006, there was more than $60 billion available for loans to communities. 

Today’s hearing is limited to wastewater or clean water needs.  Oklahoma has projected $586 million in clean water related needs over the next 20 years.  As one of today’s witnesses mentions, this figure does not include any future costs due to new regulations.  Further, in the last drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma ’s reported needs were $4.8 billion over the next 20 years.  Importantly $107 million of that need is known to be a direct result of federal drinking water requirements.  Without providing sufficient federal funds to help cities to meet those requirements, they become not just requirements, but federal unfunded mandates.  My staff has received assurances that the absence of drinking water from this hearing will not preclude us from reauthorizing the drinking water SRF program.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a clean, comprehensive funding proposal.

The effort that we are about to undertake will be the fourth time in four Congresses that we have attempted to move a water infrastructure bill.  Only one of our previous three attempts at passing a water infrastructure bill was bipartisan.  I hope that this year we can again have a bipartisan bill as we did last Congress under my leadership and that we can work together to move it to the Senate floor.  To do so, we must avoid many of the mistakes of previous efforts.

The bill must be clean of too many additional requirements on the applicants.  We are not providing grants through the current SRF.  These are loans to be repaid by municipalities.  In order to truly provide them with federal assistance in meeting their regulatory obligations under the federal environmental statutes, we must provide loans with as few strings attached as possible.  There are legislative proposals pending that include additional requirements for states and localities to meet.  While I am sure someone can find value in almost all of these requirements, I am concerned their cumulative impact may be to create a program far too burdensome for anyone to use.   

Additionally, in previous attempts, even last year, we failed to come to a unified committee resolution to the issue of Davis-Bacon.  Failing to do so again will likely result in yet another stalemate.   I must again, as I have in the past, encourage all parties to come to the table to find a path forward that keeps the Committee united behind a single bill.

This is an important issue.  While some may disagree over the exact amount of the funding gap, there can be no denying that it exists.   The question before the Committee is, what if any changes do we need to make to the federal clean water program to ensure it is best meeting the needs of our local communities and lessening that gap?  As the single most conservative member of the Senate, as voted by the American Conservative Union, I have consistently advocated for developing and improving the nation’s infrastructure and providing for our nation’s defense.  I look forward to this hearing and to working with my colleagues to develop a comprehensive funding proposal.  Thank you again to Senator Lautenberg for holding this hearing.

  

Opening Statement: Hearing To Examine The Condition Of Our Nations Bridges

September 20, 2007

Link to Senator Inhofe's Opening Statement

Thank you Madame Chairman. I am pleased that you have called this hearing to examine the state of our nation’s bridge infrastructure.  As I’m sure you remember, I suggested back in February that we hold a hearing on the Emergency Relief Program because of the funding and how the eligibility works

The catastrophic failure of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota was a tragedy for the families of the 13 victims as well as the people of Minnesota, and I hope a wake-up call for all of us.   Our infrastructure is crumbling and we cannot afford to ignore it. We have been enjoying investments made 50 years ago and have not been giving enough attention to replacement, or even adequate maintenance, of the very infrastructure that has fueled unprecedented economic prosperity.   As I have stated many times, the primary responsibility of government is to provide for the defense of the country and infrastructure.  We have done an inadequate job maintaining and expanding our infrastructure.    

I do have one concern that I would like to put on the table. Following the tragedy in Minnesota, many have rushed to call for dramatic increases in the amount of money we spend on bridges.   While I appreciate that may be a natural response, I would suggest that as the committee of jurisdiction on this issue, we need to look at the entire picture before we make decisions on how to spend additional scarce resources.   Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that we do not need to devote more resources to bridges.   In fact my home state leads the nation in structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges.  If anyone understands the need for increased attention on bridges, I do. But I believe when we examine the state of our infrastructure in its entirety, we will find that it is not just bridges but everything that needs attention.  The investment needs for aging bridges are staggering, but we cannot let this overshadow the overwhelming needs on all aspects our nation’s highways.

Additionally, I am concerned about the potential impact on repairing our aging infrastructure if the Chairman’s proposals on climate change were to become law.  The production of cement produces a lot of CO2 emissions.  A tight Cap and Trade program, such as the Boxer/Sanders Bill, will force most of our American cement production to go overseas, where their environmental procedures are not as good as ours.  This will result not only in higher CO2 emissions world-wide, but also higher costs for cement here in the US and supply delays.  This will mean our highway dollars will be stretched even thinner.

SAFETEA provided $22 billion for the Highway Bridge program, and added the ability for states to use bridge funding on preventative maintenance.  As we consider higher funding for bridges, we cannot forget that is only part of the solution.  We also need to examine further programmatic changes that will improve our nation’s bridges and ensure that we get the most for our limited dollars 

So, Madame Chairman, I hope this will be just one of many oversight hearings in the next year on the state of infrastructure and what needs to be done to address it. Reauthorization of SAFETEA is coming up quickly and if we are going to be prepared to we must start today. 

I want to welcome our witnesses today and thank them for taking time out of their schedules to share with us their thoughts.  I am anxious to hear from the two Senators from Minnesota. Their insight, and perhaps frustrations, into how resources were pulled together to respond to the disaster will be most instructive to the committee.   My own experience following bridge failure is that you are never too prepared and I know we can all benefit from what you learned.

It is always a pleasure to hear from Secretary Peters.   I know from personal experience that you are a critical partner in a disaster. So, thank you for coming and I am looking forward to your testimony.

It is my hope that from Secretary Peters and the Inspector General, Calvin Scovel, we will learn exactly what the classifications of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete does and does not mean and how the current program is designed to encourage states to address bridge maintenance and replacement.

Finally, we will be hearing the state perspective from the Director of the Michigan DOT, Kirk Steudle and the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of building and maintaining bridges from Mark Hermann on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Again, thank you to all of our witnesses and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

EPW Fact of the Day: Understanding The Term "Structurally Deficient"

What does the term “structurally deficient” mean? That’s exactly the question Senator Inhofe asked  Secretary Mary E. Peters, Secretary U.S. Department of Transportation, to address during this week’s Senate Environment and Public Works hearing examining the condition of our nation’s bridges. In the aftermath of catastrophic failure of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota, the term has caused significant confusion.

Secretary Peters explains in her prepared remarks before the EPW Committee that the term “structurally deficient” is a technical engineering term:

“The term ‘structurally deficient’ is a technical engineering term used to classify bridges according to serviceability, safety, and essentiality for public use. The fact that a bridge is classified as ‘structurally deficient’ does not mean that it is unsafe for use by the public. Since 1995 the percentage of travel taking place on roads that are considered “good” has increased from 39.8% to 44.2%.Overall, approximately 85% of travel takes place on pavement that is considered ‘acceptable.’”

Calvin L. Scovel, the Inspector General U.S. Department of Transportation, also addresses the question of what “structural deficient” in his prepared remarks before the Committee:

“The term ‘structurally deficient’ refers to bridges that have major deterioration, cracks, or other deficiencies in their structural components, including decks, girders, or foundations. Regular inspections that check for corrosion, decay, and other signs of deterioration are important tools for ensuring that bridges are safe. In some cases, structurally deficient bridges require repair of structural components, or even closure. But most bridges classified as structurally deficient can continue to serve traffic safely if they are properly inspected, the bridges’ maximum load ratings are properly calculated, and, when necessary, the proper maximum weight limits are posted.”

FACT: Of the 600,000 Bridges in the United States, only 2% are owned by the Federal Government, the rest are owned by the States (47%) and local government (51%).   States are ultimately responsible for inspection of all public highway bridges within the state, except for the small number owned by the Federal government and Indian tribes; the bridge owners are responsible for actually completing the inspection.  Most bridges, including all of those that are longer than 20ft and on the Federal-Aid system, are inspected at least every 2 years.  The National Bridge Inspection Program also includes specific qualifications and a training program for bridge inspectors.  Information collected from each inspection is transmitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and entered into the NBI database.  This information is then used to assure bridge safety and to determine which bridges are eligible for funding. Each bridge in the National Bridge Inventory has both a sufficiency rating and a condition rating. 

Sufficiency Ratings (from 0 – 100 with 0 being the worst) are used to illustrate the bridge’s overall capability.  A bridge’s structural deficiency makes up 55% of the sufficiency rating.  The sufficiency rating is based:  

*55% on structural condition

*30% on ability to meet current traffic conditions

*15% on how essential it is for public use

Bridges with a sufficiency rating of less than 50 are eligible for replacement or rehabilitation and those with a sufficiency rating of less than 80 are eligible for rehabilitation.  Highway Bridge Program funds are available for both activities.

Condition Ratings (from 0 – 9 with 0 being the worst) are used to determine whether a bridge is functionally obsolete and/or structurally deficient.  Condition ratings are based on the condition of the bridge deck, superstructure, and piers.  A bridge with a condition rating of 1 – 4 is considered functionally obsolete and/or structurally deficient. 

There are two types of deficient bridges:

Structurally Deficient:  a bridge which has deteriorated conditions of significant bridge elements and reduced load carrying capacity, or the waterway opening beneath the bridge is insufficient and causing significant traffic interruptions.  A structurally deficient bridge is often weight limited, requires immediate rehabilitation to remain open, or is closed.

Functionally Obsolete:  a bridge that has a deck geometry, load carrying capacity, clearance or approach roadway alignment that does not meet current design standards.  Functional obsolescence is the result of changing traffic demands and design standards rather than a degradation of the bridge itself.

Rural bridges are more often structurally deficient, while urban bridges are usually functionally obsolete due to increased traffic.  About 28% of all bridges are deficient.  If a bridge is both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, it is classified as structurally deficient.  Approximately 72,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient and 81,000 are considered functionally obsolete. Of those bridges that are classified as structurally deficient, approximately 6,000 are on the National Highway System.

Putting the Bridge Crisis in Perspective

Although we must take very seriously the collapse of the I35 bridge in Minnesota by taking a much closer look at how bridges are funded and maintained, when we examine our nation’s infrastructure in its entirety, we will find that it is not just bridges but all aspects of our national highway system that needs attention.  The investment needs for aging bridges are staggering, but we cannot let this overshadow the overwhelming needs on all aspects our nation’s highways.

 

In Case You Missed It...Inhofe Seeks Wider Scope Than Fixing Bad Bridges

The Oklahoman

Inhofe Seeks Wider Scope Than Fixing Bad Bridges

Friday, September 21, 2007

By Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau

Link to Article

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe said Thursday that lawmakers need to look at all of the nation's transportation needs and not just at devoting more resources to bridge repair.

At a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said Oklahoma had the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges and called the problem "huge.”

But, he said, he was "concerned about the call for dramatic increases in spending on bridges. We need to look at the entire picture.”

Inhofe spoke at the second congressional hearing this month about the Aug. 1 bridge collapse in Minnesota and the state of the nation's bridges.

At a House hearing two weeks ago, some lawmakers called for an increase in the federal gas tax to fund a dedicated effort to repairing bridges. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to consider that legislation next month.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said at the House hearing and again on Thursday that better funding priorities were needed, not higher taxes…

Inhofe, who was chairman of the committee two years ago when a $286 billion highway bill was approved by Congress, said Thursday that he still contends that bill didn't spend enough money.

But Inhofe also has opposed raising the federal gas tax, which provides federal funds for road and bridge construction and repair.

In Case You Missed It...OSU Professor Makes Case For Manure as Energy Resource

The Journal Record

OSU Rrofessor Makes Case For Manure as Energy Resource

September 21, 2007

Link to Article

OKLAHOMA CITY – Agriculture Economist Michael Dicks doesn’t try to sidestep manure. He heads right for it, and believes the federal government should as well.

The Oklahoma State University professor told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this month that the country’s manure is being wasted when it could be a valuable resource for the energy industry and aquatic agriculture.

“It shouldn’t be treated as something we want to get rid of; we should be trying to figure out how to use it,” Dicks said afterward. “All over the world, it’s looked on as something great, but here it’s a bad thing.”

As the agriculture industry has grown to meet the demands of markets at home and abroad, and ranching or livestock feed operations have consolidated in a smaller number of big companies, animal waste has become a problem unforeseen decades earlier, he said.

Pollution concerns arise primarily from the concentration of the waste volume.

“What we’ve been doing for the last 35 years and what we’ve told animal feeding operations to do is to contain it and then eliminate it through land application,” he said. “And if agriculture producers have done what we’ve told them to do with manure – as outlined in the USDA’s Natural Resources Conversation Service technical guide – and those ‘best management’ practices make us unhappy with the results, then it’s an insult to criticize those same producers for the problem.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told the Senate committee he isn’t certain the best solution is to declare animal manure a hazardous waste under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA, often referred to as “Superfund.”

“If animal manure is found to be a hazardous waste, then virtually every farm operation in the country could be exposed to liabilities and penalties under this act,” Inhofe said. “Furthermore, how then do we categorize the producers of such ‘hazardous waste?’  Are chickens and cows producers of hazardous waste and subject to CERCLA regulation as well?  I do not believe this is what Congress intended.  This issue needs a common-sense approach where nature and sound science meet.”

Dicks has proposed that more emphasis – and if necessary, financial incentives – be placed on overhauling the manure-disposal system and researching the best methods of capturing energy and nutrients from livestock waste.

Manure’s potential comes from the bacterial breakup of vegetable matter in the animal’s stomach, which produces methane gas and nutrients. The latter can be used in aquaculture farming.

“Economic incentives to help develop viable methane gas resources would take us in the right direction,” Dicks said. “To make a major change, you need technology and you need the money to do it.

“If cows (pooped) gold, then everyone would be out there trying to collect this stuff,” Dicks said.