Washington Watch

The BP Deepwater Horizon spill continues to have ramifications for pipeline safety even though pipelines -- neither gas nor oil -- had nothing to do with that Gulf of Mexico disaster. Nonetheless, "BP" is an entry point for Congress and others to show renewed concern about potential environmental accidents from all sorts of energy activities.

If Congress finally passes a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) reauthorization this year, it may be because of Dunkin' Donuts. A store outside Boston was the scene of a near riot in May when it was unable to offer its customers coffee because of a shortage of water caused by a breach in a seven-year old water pipe which affected over two million Boston residents. The Boston newspapers called the water disaster "Aquapocalypse."

David Michaels, the new administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is turning up the heat on industry, and critics of the agency under George W. Bush are pointing the Obama administrator toward the pipeline and underground construction industries.

It looks like Congress will give cities and counties some new flexibility in funding drinking water and sewer projects. The Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act of 2010 (H.R. 4849) that passed in the House, 246 - 178 on March 24, has a provision which allows states to issue private activity bonds for water projects without counting the value of those bonds toward state caps.

Congressional concern about "fracing" took another step forward when the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to eight companies asking for details on the chemicals they use during horizontal drilling of shale gas deposits. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the committee, implied in a memorandum to committee members that the "Big Three" of fracing may have violated a voluntary memorandum of agreement they signed with the EPA in 2005.

President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal (for the year starting Oct. 1, 2010) contains significant sums for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds in spite of pressure to reduce non-defense, non-entitlement spending.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Jordan Cove Pacific Connector LNG/pipeline project with Chairman Jon Wellinghoff once again casting a lonely dissent.

Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The biggest issue for the underground construction industry in 2010 is not whether Congress and the Obama administration will unveil a second round of infrastructure spending, but whether that second helping of funds for sewers and drinking water systems will find its way into financial bloodstreams faster than the first injection did.

Two weeks after the new administrator of the federal pipeline safety agency formally took over the agency, PHMSA announced Colorado Interstate Gas (CIG) Company was paying the biggest fine the agency has ever levied under its own authority.

Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

Anyone looking for an acknowledgement in the new FERC strategic plan that the commission is focused on expanding pipeline infrastructure need not waste his time reading the 50-page document FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff issued in mid-October.

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