ACEC Weekly NewsLine
September 28, 2011

Energy

Consortium to Use Tax Plan to Turn Old Buildings "Green"

Water

Study Says Fracking Carries Big Environmental Hazards

Transportation

Research Finds Better Way to Measure Road Life-Cycle Costs

Other

EPA Narrows Scope of Hazardous Waste Report in Response to States
Twenty States Named to Help Craft New Science Standards




Energy

Consortium to Use Tax Plan to Turn Old Buildings “Green”
New York Times (09/20/11) Gillis, Justin

A business consortium that includes Barclays, Lockheed Martin, and Ygrene Energy Fund has detailed plans to invest as much as $650 million over the next few years to reduce the energy consumption of buildings in the Miami and Sacramento metro areas. This represents the most aggressive effort to date to kick-start a national market for energy upgrades that many professionals believe could eventually be worth billions. Focusing mainly on commercial buildings at first, the group's plan is to exploit a new tax arrangement that enables building owners to upgrade their structures at no upfront cost, typically slashing their energy use and their utility bills by as much as 33 percent. The various landlords would pay for the upgrades over five to 20 years via surcharges on their property-tax bills, but that would be less than the savings. State and city officials are hopeful they have found a way to address one of the country's most pressing energy problems -- waste in older buildings -- without new money from Washington. If enough property owners sign on, private capital would be put to work paying for retrofit projects. Such initiatives would not only save local businesses money, they would create thousands of new construction jobs. Officials note that this new financing approach is known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE.
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Energy Department Finalizes $105 Million Loan Guarantee for First-of-its-Kind Cellulosic Bio-Refinery in Iowa
U.S. Department of Energy (09/23/11)

The U.S. Department of Energy has granted $105 million loan guarantee to the POET company's Project LIBERTY, the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant. Benefits of the Emmetsburg, Iowa project include the annual production of 25 million gallons of ethanol, the creation of 200 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs, and the generation of $14 million in new revenue to area corn farmers. “This project represents a pioneering effort to make broad scale deployment of cellulose ethanol a reality,” says Energy secretary Steven Chu. ”Producing the next generation of biofuels can not only reduce America’s oil dependency, it can also create vast new economic opportunities for rural Americans.” The innovative Project LIBERTY converts the cellulose in corncobs, leaves, and husks into ethanol, producing biogas sufficient to power the project and POET’s adjacent grain-based ethanol plant. By replicating this process for POET’s 27 grain-ethanol plants the company will produce a combined annual capacity of one billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol. The Energy Department's loan programs specifically support innovative commercial technologies designed to avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. This project is one of nearly $40 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and conditional commitments for loan guarantees to support more than 40 clean energy projects across the United States including the world’s largest solar generation facilities, three geothermal projects, the world’s largest wind farm, and a new nuclear power plant.
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Land/Buildings

Architecture Billings Index Turns Positive After Four Straight Monthly Declines
American Institute of Architects (09/21/11)

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) took a sudden upturn in August after four straight months of decline. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the August ABI score was 51.4, compared to just 45.1 in July. This score reflects an increase in demand for design services. The new projects inquiry index was 56.9, up sharply from a reading of 53.7 the previous month. “Based on the poor economic conditions over the last several months, this turnaround in demand for design services is a surprise,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “Many firms are still struggling, and continue to report that clients are having difficulty getting financing for viable projects, but it’s possible we’ve reached the bottom of the down cycle.”
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Circuit Court Poised to Rule on Test of EPA's Superfund 'Arranger' Position
Inside EPA (09/23/11)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit is poised to become the first appellate court to directly rule on EPA's claims regarding the scope of "arranger" liability under Superfund law since the Supreme Court's 2009 decision on the issue. The case could be especially significant in defining the new standards that the government must meet in order to hold polluters accountable, according to experts. The case of the United States v. General Electric is at issue, and GE claims that that the appellate court should overturn a lower court ruling holding it liable as an arranger of hazardous waste disposal at a New Hampshire Superfund site. GE contends that the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in the consolidated cases Shell Oil v. United States and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. United States means that the company should be excused from arranger liability relative to the site. The Justice Department, however, says that the facts of GE's case diverge from Shell's, thus illustrating the limits of the high court's ruling. GE's past fabrication of electric capacitors generated a PCB-laden waste labeled scrap Pyranol, which DOJ claims overwhelmed the company's storage capacities at its New York facilities. To get rid of the material, GE resorted to "dumping it into the Hudson River, sending it to landfills, or giving it away," DOJ says. A large volume of Pyranol was sent to the late Frederic Fletcher, who had hoped the material would be useful to his paint and chemical manufacturing operation, only to learn that much of it was unusable waste. DOJ seeks to prove that GE was not only aware that the Pyranol it was shipping to Fletcher was largely useless, but also that its main goal in sending it to him was to dispose of it and relieve the burden it was causing at GE's own facilities. DOJ says that when Fletcher halted payments to GE for the substance, and said that it was "garbage," GE continued to ship the Pyranol to him "at a frenetic pace." GE never retrieved from Fletcher the 1,800 to 2,000 drums of Pyranol that Fletcher claimed were unusable, and leakage from the drums eventually turned Fletcher's property as well as the surrounding area into a Superfund site. DOJ argues that the facts of GE's case "are substantially different" from that of Shell's. Unlike Shell's chemical products that were the focus of the Supreme Court's ruling, "GE's scrap Pyranol was an unusable waste that created serious storage and disposal problems, and not a new and useful product," DOJ says. Moreover, "GE took no steps to prevent disposal of the drums by retrieving them, but instead just left the unwanted barrels there, making their disposal inevitable."

New Theory on 9/11 Twin Towers Collapse
Agence France-Presse (09/22/11)

The collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 may have been caused by the mixture of melted aluminum and water from the buildings’ sprinkler systems, according to materials expert Christian Simensen, a scientist at Norway-based research institute SINTEF, who presented his theory at an international materials technology conference in San Diego. Simensen rejects the official claim that over-heating and the failure of structural steel beams at the building’s core caused the collapse, and says the large amount of molten metal would have produced a blast large enough to blow out an entire section of each building which would cause the top section to fall down on lower sections. The theory would also explain the explosions that occurred inside the buildings just before they collapsed, which led to many conspiracy theories about bombs inside the buildings. Simensen said there have been more than 250 aluminum-water explosions documented since 1980, including an experiment at Alcoa Aluminum that destroyed the entire laboratory and created a 100-feet-wide crater. That experiment involved just 44 pounds of aluminum, while the planes each carried 30 tons of the metal. Aluminum melts at 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit and when mixed with water, rises several hundred more degrees while releasing combustible hydrogen. If rust or other catalysts are present, temperatures can go as high as 2,700 degrees. Simensen that if his theory is correct measures could be taken to prevent similar disasters, such as rapidly emptying sprinkler systems or firing a rocket with fire-retardant.
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Redefining Creative Space
Urban Land (08/11) Vol. 70, No. 6, P. 54; Kirk, Patrick

Creative clusters have become a desirable economic driver for cities and states because companies engaged in entertainment and new media activities can have a positive impact on their economy and urban renewal goals. With the advent of digital technology, creative companies no longer need hundreds of thousands of square feet of space to accommodate a large staff of skilled professionals, and have less use for soundstages and shooting on location, because they can now create special effects and insert actors into digitally created scenes. As a result, creative companies are downsizing their workspace, and are relocating to areas that have interesting, edgy architecture and enticing lifestyle amenities and services. They tend to cluster in neighborhoods with old industrial buildings, which often initiates the transformation of deteriorating commercial districts. Creative companies favor one- and two-story office buildings because they allow for interaction with the environment; the buildings have walk-up entries, windows that open and street-level parking. Shared space and collaboration are key for creative companies, and therefore, designs have open floor plans and gathering places such as a café, a commissary or outdoor seating. The idea is to create a comfortable environment where people want to come to work, according to Jeff Pion, vice president in the Century City/Beverly Hills office of Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis. "If you look at where creative companies are going, they have redeeming qualities and locations where people want to live and work," says Pion.

Water

Study Says Fracking Carries Big Environmental Hazards
Nature (09/15/11) Vol. 477, No. 7364, P. 271; Howarth, Robert W.; Ingraffea, Anthony; Engelder, Terry

Cornell University's Robert W. Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea argue against the practice of extracting natural gas from shale through hydraulic fracking because the environmental costs are unacceptable. Among the risks the fracking process entails is the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas, as a byproduct of the mining process. Fracking additionally extracts heavy metals, natural salts, hydrocarbons, and radioactive materials from the shale, presenting risks to ecosystems and public health when these return to the surface. The improvement of old pipelines and storage systems and the application of better technology for capturing gas in the two-week flowback period that follows fracking can help decrease methane venting and leakage, but current economic incentives are insufficient to spur such upgrades. The contamination of drinking water by fracking-return fluids also has been demonstrated. Pennsylvania State University's Terry Engelder argues for fracking with his contention that it is critical to global economic stability, which outweighs the environmental hazards. The use of fracking to access shale gas would vastly expand gas resources in many countries, and have a massive effect on global energy production. To declare a moratorium on new wells would have a negative effect on the U.S. economy that would ripple globally, Engelder writes. "There are environmental risks, but these can be managed through existing, and rapidly improving, technologies and regulations," he posits. Engelder also says that "press reports often repeat strident concerns about the chemicals added to fracking fluids. But many of these compounds are relatively benign."

EPA-Minnesota Project Could be Model for Complying With Utility Rules
Clean Air Report (09/15/2011) Vol. 22, No. 19,

The Environmental Protection Agency is working with Minnesota state officials, industry and environmentalists on a plan to identify measures the state could take to ease utilities' compliance with a slew of pending agency rules for the sector, while minimizing cost and grid reliability concerns. Sources say the effort could serve as a model for other states to follow, if successful. The pilot project aims to address concerns from the GOP, the utility industry and others about the EPA's air, water and waste rules that has caused some plants to permanently close down due to the high compliance costs. The "Power Sector Regulations Project" will also create a set of recommendations to the state "for a process or plan that will lead covered sources to a responsible compliance strategy that meets all regulations; ensure reliability; mitigates costs; and incorporates [energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power]." "EPA recognizes the states play a crucial role in implementation and assistance in compliance with utility pollution regulation, and hopes that the insights and outcomes from this project can serve as a model for other states as they start planning now for utility compliance with these rules," said an agency spokeswoman. Joining the agency in the project are state officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, with the World Resource Institute facilitating the project. Also working on the project are officials from utilities Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power and grid operator Midwest Independent System Operator. Representatives from the business, environmental, academic and consumer advocacy communities will also be involved in the project.

Transportation

Research Finds Better Way to Measure Road Life-Cycle Costs
Portland Cement Association (09/18/11) Flesher, Patti

Researchers at MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub have developed a more accurate formula for the life-cycle cost analysis that transportation agencies use to make paving material choices. By showing that traditional methods of life-cycle cost analyses are flawed because they do not account for the high price volatility of asphalt, the new formula measures the impact of inflation on the choice of paving materials over the life cycle of a road construction project. Simulations over a 50-year period showed that the mean real price of concrete decreases 20 percent while the price of asphalt increases 95 percent. “More specifically,” say the researchers, “overall inflation outstripped concrete inflation, while it is the opposite case for asphalt,” which would make the cost of concrete below most inflation rates, and the cost of asphalt above most inflation rates. Initially, concrete roads are more expensive to construct, but are more durable and require less frequent maintenance than asphalt roads. The research team developed a software package available at www.palisade.com/risk/, a Microsoft Excel add-on, to help decision-makers evaluate the life-cycle cost analysis of alternative construction projects. The program also has features that allow the user to upgrade and verify results.
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Bottlenecks Studied at 250 Freight-Significant Highway Locations
Commercial Carrier Journal (09/11)

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the Federal Highway Administration recently released the findings of the annual report on congestion at freight-significant highway locations. The report assesses the level of truck-oriented congestion at 250 locations on the national highway system, using ATRI-developed analysis methods, custom software tools, and data from truck operations to create a congestion severity ranking for each locations. The most congested location for trucks was Chicago's freeway intersection of I-290 at I-90/I-94. "Strengthening the efficiency of supply chains is becoming a critical component of U.S. economic growth," says Knight Transportation chairman and chief executive officer Kevin Knight. "Challenge number one is identifying the freight bottlenecks. Fortunately, ATRI’s report goes far in using real-world data to tell us where the impediments lie." The congestion monitoring study combines anonymous truck GPS location information with sophisticated software applications and analysis to examine the levels at which truck-based freight is affected by congestion.
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FHWA Concludes Pedestrian Countermeasure Study in Three Cities
ITE Journal (08/11) Vol. 81, No. 8, P. 39; Redmon, Tamara

The Federal Highway Administration performed studies in three major U.S. cities—Miami, San Francisco, and Las Vegas—to assess the effectiveness of countermeasures implemented to prevent and minimize pedestrian fatalities. Researchers chiefly focused on measures of effectiveness (MOEs) related to driver and pedestrian behavior to determine whether there was an enhancement in safety. Such MOEs included vehicle speed, portion of drivers braking, percentage of pedestrians trapped in the crosswalk, percentage of pedestrian-vehicle conflicts, percentage of drivers stopping or yielding, pedestrian crossing time, pedestrian delay, and percentage of pedestrians making illegal crossings. Among the deployed countermeasures were dynamic crosswalk lighting, prohibition of permissive left turns, automated pedestrian detection, median refuge islands, pedestrian countdown signals, call buttons that confirm the press, NO TURN ON RED signs, TURNING TRAFFIC YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS signs, high-visibility crosswalk treatment, "LOOK" pavement stencils, leading pedestrian interval, advance stop lines, portable radar speed trailers, pedestrian zone signs, in-street pedestrian crossing signs, activated flashing beacons, rectangular rapid flashing beacon, and Danish offset. Seven countermeasures were rated as highly successful in improving pedestrian safety—leading pedestrian interval, pedestrian countdown signals, in-street pedestrian signs, activated flashing beacons, rectangular rapid flashing beacon, call buttons that confirm the press, and Danish offset combined with high-visibility crosswalk, advance yield markings, and YIELD HERE TO PEDESTRIANS signs.

Maintaining Momentum
Roads & Bridges (08/11) Vol. 49, No. 8, P. 28; Wilson, Bill

Funding allocated for roadway maintenance in Lakewood, Colo., has stayed at approximately $6 million per year for the last five years. The suburb's pavement maintenance cycle involves overlaying residential streets every 16 years, with crack sealant or patching performed every four and collector streets and arterials milled and filled every 12 and 10 years, respectively. Lakewood's maintenance initiatives also have included concrete repair, and up to 2011, some chip seal work. However, chip seals have been pulled from the program by the public works department's Chris Jacobsen on account of snowplow damage, especially on busy streets. Lakewood used to use 20 percent of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) in its mixes in accordance with state protocol, but following extensive lab testing the municipality opted to increase the RAP percentage to 30 percent on a test strip in a residential neighborhood in 2006. Jacobsen says the strip's endurance has been as good as those containing virgin asphalt. The 30 percent RAP mix will probably be applied to alleyways and perhaps a parking lot before it is used in collector and arterial streets. Other materials Lakewood is testing for its road preservation efforts include warm-mix asphalt, porous pavement, and the Reclamite surface sealant process.
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Road Project Innovation Improves Safety &Travel Time, Saves Money
Transportation Issues Daily (09/16/2011) Ehl, Larry

The Washington State Department of Transportation and central Washington community developed an innovative solution to a congested and dangerous interchange. By building an interim bypass using part of an elevated grocery store parking lot as a state highway, the WSDOT was able to provide an inexpensive and environmentally sound solution to the interchange. The parking lot, which was already in place and built to withstand highway traffic, will keep traffic patterns as far from the Columbia River as possible, alleviate congestion, improve driving time, and cut down on accidents. The state bought the west side of the elevated parking lot of Tops Foods and property to the west of the store to build the unique road. Work on the bypass should be completed in 2013.
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Time Tells All
Roads & Bridges (08/11) Vol. 49, No. 8, P. 48; Lunemann, Matt; Ro, Kwang; Huynh, Charles

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) is engaged in an ongoing project to widen the Garden State Parkway (GSP) Interchange 30 to 80 between Somers Point and Toms River, and an element of the program was construction of a bridge to span the Mullica River in Bass River Township and Port Republic. The bridge was built parallel to the existing structure, using large-diameter drilled shafts with self-consolidating concrete (SCC) that allowed the project to be completed within the required time frame and with abundant foundation capacity, as verified by testing and a rigorous quality-assurance and quality-control (QA/QC) program. The structure is comprised of seven spans varying in length from 175 feet to 220 feet with new abutments supported on concrete piles and five piers founded on 8-foot-diameter drilled shafts extending from 142 feet to 182 feet below the mean high-water elevation. The size of the drilled shafts made the potential for concrete defects a key construction issue, and the NJTA chose an SCC mix to minimize potential defects due to the segregation of the concrete between the inside and outside of the reinforcing cage and to enhance the workability of the mix for the duration of the pour. An Osterberg-Cell (O-Cell) load test was carried out using three 21-inch-diameter O-Cells, and results indicated a maximum sustained O-Cell load of 7,000 psi—substantially higher than the estimated maximum design capacity of 2,800 kips. The drilled-shaft installation procedures and QA/QC program deployed on the bridge project resulted in acceptable drilled shafts without requiring concrete coring or remediation.
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U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $83 Million for New England High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Projects
Federal Railroad Administration (09/20/11)

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved $82.7 million for improvements to high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects in Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont. “These are the kinds of investments that will improve reliability and on-time performance and attract more passengers,” says Secretary Ray LaHood. “We are creating jobs throughout New England, building our rails with American-made materials, and growing the New England economy.” The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and annual appropriations have provided $10.1 billion to 32 states and the District of to build the high-speed rail giving Americans faster and more energy-efficient travel options. So far, the DOT has committed $1.75 billion to improve service throughout the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C to Boston. The current appropriation includes $29.2 million to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to create a parallel third track to the Northeast Corridor’s main line allowing faster trains to pass slower trains, a new platform at the Kingston station, and station-wide renovation and improvement at the Providence station including ADA compliant platforms. Another $20.8 million will go to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to reduce congestion with a double track, improvements to signals and highway-rail grade crossing from Wilmington to Ballardville, MA, and aging rail replacement between Lawrence and Bradford, MA. The Connecticut Department of Transportation will receive $30 million for improvements that will relieve congestion and support increased rail service in the Hartford area, as well as repairs, maintenance and improvements to bridges, signals, and grade crossings. Finally, the Vermont Agency of Transportation will receive $2.7 million to enhance the safety, reliability, and operation of the Amtrak Vermonter service.
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Other

EPA Narrows Scope of Hazardous Waste Report in Response to States
Superfund Report (09/19/11) Vol. 25, No. 19,

EPA has narrowed the scope of 2011 hazardous waste disclosure mandates and will ask companies to report waste generation information only for the months in which they were large quantity generators (LQGs) and not the entire year as it originally proposed. State regulators question whether EPA should direct firms that produce large waste quantities only during some months to report waste generation information for the entire year, according to comments on the proposed information collection request (ICR) for the report. "This seems particularly onerous for someone who is a LQG only because of a one-time event, such as a spill or remediation," says the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in May 23 comments. "Why add the burden to compile this data for the other 364 days of the year?" The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality says in undated comments that EPA would have to revise the underlying reporting rules rather "than changing requirements in the [biennial reporting (BR)] instructions. BR instructions are supplemental and should complement not contradict the regulations." EPA agreed to remove the proposed amendment from the 2011 report, which hazardous waste generators and others will employ to satisfy their BR requirements under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act. Also questioned by states was the agency's proposal to add more waste minimization codes to the report to better comprehend "trends associated with waste minimization and sustainable materials management nationally," according to an August supporting statement for the ICR. The statement says that "some states felt that there were too few waste minimization codes to conduct meaningful analyses." EPA agreed to delay revisions to the waste minimization code list until 2013 to consider comments, while states also want the agency to make a better distinction between new and old waste minimization activities.

Twenty States Named to Help Craft New Science Standards
Education Week (09/20/11) Fleming, Nora

A group of 20 states will lead the development of a new set of common standards in science, according to a Sept. 20 announcement from Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit overseeing the effort. Participating states span the nation from California and Arizona to Michigan and Maryland. They will help write what have been called the Next Generation Science Standards based on a framework developed earlier this summer by a panel of the National Research Council. The new standards are slated to be finished before the end of 2012. The NRC's framework for the new standards is built around three core elements: scientific and engineering practices; cross-cutting concepts that blend the study of science and engineering; and core ideas in four disciplinary areas -- physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science.







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