Rule Changes, Proposals Could Prove Significant For 2012 Underground Market

Annual Regulatory Outlook
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | February 2012, Vol. 67 No. 2

Congressional efforts to reduce the yawning federal deficit will affect the EPA's Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds more than many other federal grant programs. Those two programs were a little lucky when Congress only reduced them from $1.52 billion (CW) and $963 million (DW) in fiscal 2011 to $1.46 billion and $919 million in fiscal 2012. They were combined with all federal programs in a continuing resolution where appropriations in 2012 for all programs were cut an equal amount. Adam Krantz, managing director of government and public affairs, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, says that won't be the case when Congress approves SRF budgets for fiscal 2013 later this year. "There won't be the same series of continuing resolutions we had last year, and Congress will have time to focus on the SRFs," he explains. "The funding for 2013 will be of great concern."

No more city/state One Call exemptions

The new pipeline safety bill passed by Congress in December and signed by President Obama will drive both state and federal activities in 2012. That bill is called the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011. Section 3 of the bill requires states who want to receive PHMSA One Call or State Damage Prevention grants to provide for "appropriate" participation by all underground facility operators and excavators, including all government operators. Exemptions for municipal and state agencies and their contractors are banned.

About 35 states receive One-Call grants annually. Those grants can go as high as $45,000, but are sometimes lower. It is not clear how many of those states exempt local and state governments (and their contractors) from One Call programs. Texas, for example, which receives One Call grants, exempts surface mining activities and specific activities when performed by an employee of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) within a TxDOT right-of-way.

Moreover, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act leaves in place other kinds of One Call program exemptions. "While it's true that other exemptions of note do remain, this is a good step in the right direction," says Scott Berry, director, Municipal & Utilities Construction Division, Associated General Contractors of America. "AGC is a supporter of this legislation."