ACEC Weekly NewsLine
September 15, 2010

Energy

Utiliites Accelerate Transition from Coal to Natural Gas

Land/Buildings

Critics Say LEED Program Doesn't Fulfill Promises
EPA Picks State Capitals to Create Models of Green Design

Water

Cargo Industry Calls for Huge Investment to Fix Waterways

Transportation

Construction Industry Lauds Obama's Infrastructure Proposal





Energy

Utiliites Accelerate Transition from Coal to Natural Gas
Wall Street Journal (09/13/10) P. R3; Smith, Rebecca

Utilities are transferring to natural gas from coal due to low prices and forecasts of abundant supplies. The change is occurring around the world, and is being supported by regulators who want to limit emissions. Efforts to create emissions restrictions have halted in the U.S. Congress, but utilities still expect carbon restrictions to be implemented. Coal-burning facilities are expected to fall to 10 percent of power capacity in the United States in 2013, down from 18 percent in 2009. Gas is expected to rise to 82 percent of new capacity in 2013 from 42 percent last year. Most large coal companies have invested billions of dollars to install pollution control equipment on larger plants, but smaller plants are being replaced because spending so much is not worth it. Xcel Energy, Calpine, and Progress Energy, among others, have closed coal plants in order to save money and replace some with gas-fired plants. However, not all companies want to dispense with coal: American Electric Power tried to get its customers to pay for the creation of a carbon capture and storage system at a plant in West Virginia.
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Aging Gas Pipe at Risk of Explosion Nationwide
Associated Press (09/14/10) Burke, Garance; Dearen, Jason

The explosion of a gas pipeline in a San Francisco suburb has highlighted a nationwide problem, namely that man communities have expanded over pipes built decades earlier when no one lived there. Utilities have been under pressure for years to better inspect and replace aging gas pipes that are at risk of leaking or erupting. Federal officials have recorded 2,840 significant gas pipeline accidents since 1990, more than a third causing deaths and significant injuries. In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring utilities to inspect pipelines that run through heavily populated areas. In the first five years, more than 3,000 problems were identified. Pipelines in heavily populated locations fall into a category the industry refers to as "high consequence areas," which contain about 7 percent of the 300,000 miles of gas transmission lines in the country, or roughly 21,000 miles of pipeline.
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New Recovery Act Funding Boosts Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Research and Development
U.S. Department of Energy (09/07/10)

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced the selection of 22 projects that will receive a total of more than $575 million to accelerate carbon capture and storage research and development for industrial sources. Funded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, these projects complement the industrial demonstration projects already being funded through the Recovery Act. The program supports the President's goal of cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years and helps to position the U.S. as a leader in the global clean energy race. The projects focus on four different areas of carbon capture and storage research and development: 1) Large scale testing of advanced gasification technologies; 2) advanced turbo-machinery to lower emissions from industrial sources; 3) post-combustion CO2 capture with increased efficiencies and decreased costs; and 4) geologic storage site characterization.
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Land/Buildings

Critics Say LEED Program Doesn't Fulfill Promises
National Public Radio (09/08/10) Cater, Franklyn

Green building is a rapidly growing industry, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its certification system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), are capturing an increasingly large portion of the construction industry. However, some critics say LEED is not delivering on its environmental promises. LEED is a major force in the construction industry. LEED certification is required by 14 federal departments and agencies, 34 states, and more than 200 local governments. Some offer incentives for certification, while other mandate LEED as a kind of code. Henry Gifford, a New York apartment building owner turned energy efficiency expert, says LEED does not put enough emphasis on saving energy. "It's impossible to go out and buy a building with a guarantee for how much energy it won't use," says Gifford. "And the LEED system, by basing everything on energy predictions, continues that. This is one of the reasons why it's so popular — because it's painless." Gifford says LEED awards certification before energy savings are proved. "LEED certification has never depended on actual energy use, and it's not going to," says Gifford. "You can use as much energy as you want and report it and keep your plaque." Gifford believes more needs to be done to ensure that owners and operators are properly operating green buildings. USGBC recently unveiled LEED version three, and owners of all new LEED buildings must now tell the USGBC how their buildings are performing for at least three years as part of the "existing buildings program."
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EPA Picks State Capitals to Create Models of Green Design
EPA News Release (09/08/10)

The EPA announced a round of grants under the Greening America’s Capitals program that will allow five states to begin green development projects such as cleaning up and recycling vacant lands, improving transportation and housing choices, and reducing infrastructure and energy costs. The EPA will provide teams of urban planners and landscape architects for Boston; Jefferson City, Mo.; Hartford, Conn.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Little Rock, Ark., to develop sustainable designs for unique neighborhoods with social, economic, environmental and public health benefits. The program does not offer grants but direct technical assistance for developing sustainable options. The goal is to create models that can be replicated in cities across the nation.
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Building as a Verb: Designing a Building That Works Harder for You
GreenerDesign (09/08/10) McKeag, Tom

A group of young architects recently underwent a workshop to teach them new parametric software tools and concepts surrounding bio-inspired design. At the Biodynamic Structures, hosted by the California College of the Arts and the Architectural Association of London, participants explored the integration of new ideas and technology in the design of better buildings. Participants' creations included a ceiling that changed shape when stimulated by noise, a wall that responded to the presence of people, and structural columns that mimicked the distribution of trees and branches in a forest. Such innovations could lead to "smarter" buildings that could save, owners, builders, and developers more money, as well as help preserve the environment for future generations. Professor Jason Johnson believes that such workshops represent a new trend toward "dynamism." Johnson sees a growing shift from the making of forms based on discrete aesthetic, to forms that are more continuous, interactive with users, and can be modulated by the users. Architects has advocated good design as a path to better human performance for some time. Traditionally, users have been actuators, but now buildings will be more responsive and allow for participation with users. Instead of users forcing changes in a building, the building will start to understand and automatically adapt to its users.
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Obama Administration Awards Additional $1 Billion to Stabilize Neighborhoods Hard-Hit by Foreclosure
HUD Newsroom (09/08/10)

A third round of funding through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been announced, offering targeted emergency funds for state and local governments struggling with especially high foreclosure rates. The funds can be used to buy, redevelop, or demolish foreclosed homes. The aim is to “reduce blight, bolster neighboring home values, create jobs, and produce affordable living,” said Secretary Shaun Donavan. The program is part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which also gave rise to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. HUD will issue an NSP3 guidance note in the near future to help states design their programs and apply for funds.
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Water

Cargo Industry Calls for Huge Investment to Fix Waterways
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA) (09/02/10) Leonard, Kim

Federal financial woes have slowed progress on construction and repair of deteriorating river locks and dams, and the cargo industry is proposing a plan to pay up to 45 percent more tax on diesel fuel to pay for the much-needed repairs. James C. Grech, senior vice president at Consol Energy, said that if no action is taken “there is going to be a massive failure, and the river industry is going to come to a standstill.” There are more than 100 critical projects that must be started to ensure the industry’s continued operation, industry leaders say, and the work could cost as much as $18 billion over the next 20 years. The proposed plan was developed by cargo transporters and other waterways, business, and labor groups in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, and in addition to higher taxes it includes cost caps on projects and a shift to 100 percent federal funding for dams and projects under $100 million. Currently companies play 20 percent per gallon in tax on diesel for using the rivers, and the funds are collected in a trust used to maintain waterway systems. Increasing the tax would cost companies up to nine cents more per gallon and bring in up to $40 million more per year for the trust fund.
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Transportation

Construction Industry Lauds Obama's Infrastructure Proposal
Associated General Contractors of America (09/07/10)

President Obama’s proposed transportation investment initiative will bolster the construction industry as stimulus funding runs out, according to Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. While the industry would prefer that the full six-year transportation bill be passed, the Obama proposal will provide a much-needed interim boost, he says. "The President clearly appreciates that the infrastructure–focused portions of the stimulus were effective in boosting employment and helping rebuild America's aging infrastructure,” he said. “And while the most effective sequel to the stimulus is passing a fully funded six-year surface transportation bill, countless thousands of construction workers will have a better chance of retaining their jobs thanks to this proposal than they otherwise would once the stimulus runs its course.” His organization will continue to advocate for the larger bill in the meantime, which will include a third “Sick of Aging Roads?” event in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and participants in the Americans for Transportation Mobility and the Transportation Construction Coalition.
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DOT Envisions Human-Free Car Operation
Federal News Radio (09/07/10) Jairam, Vyomika

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is working to create a future where cars operate more efficiently and safely without human interaction. Many existing modes of transportation already operate with automation, and cars that guide themselves by satellite are the wave of the future, says Robert Bertini, acting director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems at DOT. Self-guided, connected vehicles could improve safety, mobility, and sustainability, he says, and his program is working with states, carmakers, and device manufacturers to develop the technology and figure out how to make it a widespread reality. The first step is a large pilot project, and the goal is to decide by 2013 whether regulations or incentives are the way to promote the technology.
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Federal Aviation Administration Announces Additional Recovery Act Airport Grants
Federal Aviation Administration (09/09/10)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recently announced that five additional airport projects have been selected for funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. "Earlier ARRA projects came in under budget and these savings can now be applied to other projects," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Transportation and infrastructure are the foundation of our economy. These airport projects are putting people to work in good-paying jobs across the country." FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt announced the additional funding at an event celebrating the completion of a $4.9 million Recovery Act terminal project at Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia. "These additional Recovery Act dollars are giving airports that serve a wide range of communities the chance to make needed improvements that wouldn’t otherwise be possible," says Babbitt. "Safe and modernized airports will benefit these local economies for years to come." So far, over $1.3 billion in Recovery Act funds has been made available nationwide for airport improvement projects and air traffic control facility and systems upgrades.
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Other

Back by Popular Demand: AutoCAD for the Mac
Architectural Record (09/10) Linn, Charles

Autodesk stopped releasing its popular AutoCAD software for Apple machines in 1994 due to compatibility issues and the Mac’s declining market share, but now the company has embraced Apple again and announced the release of AutoCAD 2011 for Macintosh and AutoCAD WS, which works for iPhones, iPads, and iTouches. This will allow anyone with an iOS device or Web browser to use an AutoCAD DWG file, which will be particularly useful for construction sites where workers can carry an iPad rather than paper blueprints, says Noah Cole of Autodesk. He adds that customers had been asking for a Mac version of the software, “in increasingly loud voices,” as architects and other design-oriented professionals prefer the Mac and iPhone to Windows-based devices.
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OSHA Proposes Improvements To Its On-site Consultation Program
U.S. Department of Labor News Release (09/03/10)

OSHA recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to change regulations regarding the agency's On-site Consultation Program. The On-site Consultation Program offers employers free assistance in developing and implementing an effective safety and health management system, with a priority on small businesses in high-hazard industries. The changes would provide OSHA with greater flexibility when inspecting worksites that are undergoing on-site consultation visit, including those that are granted Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) status, and ensure enhanced worker safety. The proposed changes include clarifying the Assistant Secretary's authority to identify sites that will be inspected, even if those sites are normally exempt because of their SHARP status. For example, if workplace accidents occur that generate widespread public concern about a hazard or substance, the Assistant Secretary could require OSHA to respond by inspecting all sites within a specific industry. Another proposed change would add referrals as a basis to terminate an employer's on-site consultation visit and conduct an enforcement visit. Referrals are allegations of potential hazards or violations made by state or local health departments, media, or other sources. OSHA is also proposing a revision of the existing initial exemption from programmed inspections up to two years with an extension of up to three years for employers who have achieved SHARP status, to one year with an extension of up to another year. Comments on the proposed changes must be submitted by Nov. 2, 2010.
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Searching for STEM Success
Inside Higher Ed (09/03/10) Moltz, David

Rural community colleges (CCs) have recently done much better than urban and suburban CCs in the percentage increase of associate degrees awarded to women and minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). From 1986 to 2005, rural CCs increased the number of women and minority STEM graduates by more than 42 percent. Meanwhile, urban CCs boosted these underrepresented groups by less than 24 percent and suburban CCs by about 10 percent. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (UAT) researchers studied the production of STEM graduates in CCs of different sizes and geographic locations and found that rural CCs increased their number of female engineering technology graduates by more than 37 percent during the 20-year period studied, while that number decreased by 19 percent and 17 percent at suburban and urban CCs. The researchers also found a substantial decrease in the number of STEM degrees at CCs going to men. "It may well be that the programs that [the U.S. National Science Foundation] and others have targeted for women and other underrepresented populations in recent years should expand their focus to include populations that are better represented in higher education as a whole," say UAT professors David E. Hardy and Stephen G. Katsinas.
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USCIS Introduces New Photo Matching Tool in E-Verify
Lexology (08/28/10)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it will expand the photo matching portion of the E-Verify program to include U.S. passports and driver’s license data. This change will be effective this September and will give companies and organizations that use E-Verify the capability of comparing photos from an individual’s U.S. passport with that stored in the government’s online database during the I-9 verification process. Currently, the capability to photo match only appears for foreign nationals who show a recent version of their Form I-551 permanent resident card or Employment Authorization Document during the I-9 review process. This new change will not be mandatory for participating employers.
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