Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Last week US EPA released its 2017 draft “Inventory of Greenhouse Gases Emissions and Sinks;” draft because it’s open for comment until March 9.  Bottom line: Total gross 2016 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were 6,546.2 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 equivalent. Emissions decreased from 2015 to 2016 by 2.0% (131.1 MMT CO2 Eq.), driven in large part by a decrease in CO2 emissions because (1) natural gas was used instead of coal in the electric power sector and (2) warmer winter conditions in 2016 resulting in a decreased demand for heating fuel in residential and commercial sectors.  Emissions peaked in 2007 at 7,362 MMT.
*  NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center has released a “Report on the State of the California Current in 2017.”  This document is an interdisciplinary research effort led by NOAA; its goal is “to provide science support for ecosystem-based management of the California Current Ecosystem,” which covers nearly 1800 miles and includes thousands of plant and animal species.  The California Current is said to be in “a state of transition.”  One recent concern: the “warm-water blob of 2014-15” resulting in abnormally high ocean temperatures from 2013-16 but returning to more normal levels in 2016-17.  NOAA says it’s too early to tell whether the warmer water affected animal and plant life within this ecosystem.
*  This information is buried in a footnote within the ISO New England Fuel Security Analysis: Nameplate capacity refers to the maximum electricity a power generation resource is rated capable of providing.  Actual output is usually a smaller percentage of maximum due to outages.  Most renewable resources have a lower actual output percentage due to the variability of weather. The output from onshore wind is expected at about 48% and offshore wind at about 53% of nameplate capability.  “Actual production from solar photovoltaics (PV),” the ISO writes, “is expected to be about 8% of nameplate.”
Tom Ewing
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Observations about 2018…

Observations about 2018

By Greg Sitek

The construction markets enter a year that will most likely offer more opportunity than in decades.

“The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will long be remembered as one of the busiest and most destructive hurricane seasons on record.  This placed 2017 among the top 10 most active Atlantic seasons on record, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a tropical scientist at Colorado State University.


“California firefighters started the year still fighting blazes from 2017, including the Thomas Fire, the single largest wildfire in California history.

“Even as the Eastern United States braces for a massive winter storm, fire conditions still linger in Southern California, and only a light drizzle is in sight this week to quench dry brush in one of the driest seasons on record for the region.

“Officials report that the Thomas Fire burned nearly 282,000 acres across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, about 1.6 times the size of New York City…

“The fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures; it also claimed the life of a firefighter on December 14 and is blamed for two other deaths. Soot and ash from the flames led to record-high air pollution in the region, making it too dangerous to even be outside.

It’s a tragic finale to what has already been California’s worst fire season, as several huge, deadly infernos burned uncontrolled for days across the state. (

As noted above the Eastern United States was subjected to severe winter/snow storms while California took another hit as mudslides caused even more damage. John Trotti, editor at Forester Publication, lives in Santa Barbara posted on his T-Gram Thomas Fire Blog the following:

“According to California Attorney General records, there are 12,000 businesses in Santa Barbara County with 150,000 employees. In my estimation, two-thirds of these (8,000 and 100,000 respectively) are situated on the county’s south coast. Of those 100,000 employees, my guess is that 20,000 live in the North County and another 30,000 in Ventura County or points south, this latter cluster pretty well locked out from their jobs and with some exceptions their paychecks. True, there is the recently restored train service capable of transporting 2,000 people per day, along with hastily initiated charter boat services, good for another several hundred passengers.

“For the vast majority of commuters, however, the only option is a four hour (minimum) drive east to Interstate 5, up over the Grapevine to Bakersfield, west to Paso Robles, and then South again to Santa Barbara, Such a sojourn makes no sense unless its participant has a place to stay in the Santa Barbara area…

“As for business owners, the situation requires decisions, some with dire economic consequences in answer to such questions as, “Can I get along without a portion of my staff,” and, “Can I continue to pay salaries for those who can’t get to work?” Being a tourist destination of some renown, much of the area’s economy is dependent on the 200,000 per day traffic load on Hwy. 101, the month and a half disruption of which has had severe consequences on nearly all its retail establishments, a goodly number of which have already closed their doors.

“My point in this is that what is missing most from news portrayals of the Thomas Fire/Flood disaster is the sense of the turmoil that underlies the day-to-day lives of not just the people directly affected, but those on the periphery whose lives have been impacted in ways over which they exercise no control or perhaps even comprehend.”

All of these plus other disasters throughout the country are demanding attention putting the need for waste, debris and rubble removal, and processing at an all-time high along with infrastructure repair and replacement, commercial, institutional, industrial buildings and housing at an all-time high.

Overcoming the shortages – materials, equipment, and people — will be among the greatest challenges the industry faces in 2018.

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  There’s been a lot of criticism about EPA’s public process with its proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.  One major complaint is that the agency held just one public meeting, at the end of November, in – some said – a very out of the way place: Charleston, WV.  Last week EPA announced three additional public comment sessions in February – the first in Kansas City, MO; the second, a week later, in San Francisco.  If you have trouble getting to those two cities you can plan on going to the third meeting at the end of March in Gillette, WY.  EPA also reopened the public comment period until April 26, 2018.

*  The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) hosts a public meeting via WebEx this month of the Supercritical CO2 Oxy-combustion Technology Group, established to address challenges associated with oxy-combustion systems in directly heated supercritical CO2 (sCO2) power cycles. Such systems have the potential to be efficient, cost-effective and well-suited for carbon dioxide (CO2) capture. But there are big challenges –  chemical kinetic uncertainties, combustion instability, flow path design, thermal management, pressure containment, among others.  The agenda isn’t available yet but the format is built around one central report with the lesser time given over to briefer reports.  These are every-other-month meetings.

*  State of the Union… The President: “America is a nation of builders.  We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”  Some good ideas:
·         Legislation that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure.
·         Every Federal dollar should be leveraged with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment.
·         Streamlining permitting and approval — getting to no more than two years, perhaps even one.
Or (author’s comment) status quo (bad idea) – maintain the business of groups very skilled in the business of delay…

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  New infrastructure plan docs were released last week.  The White House ideas are almost seditious: “The Federal Government inefficiently invests in non-Federal infrastructure. In part, our lack of sustained progress has been due to confusion about the Federal Government’s role in infrastructure… The flexibility to use Federal dollars to pay for essentially local infrastructure projects has created an unhealthy dynamic in which State and local governments delay projects in the hope of receiving Federal funds… We will reevaluate the role of the Federal Government in infrastructure investment. For example, in the Interstate System, the Federal Government now acts as a complicated, costly middleman…”  C’mon, states and metro areas just want money – they don’t want to even think about doing anything differently!  Remember John Stuart Mill’s famous maxim: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that man behind the tree!”

*  Last week I referenced the ISO New England report “Operational Fuel-Security Analysis.”  It’s worth a 2nd reference, at least.  The ISO models a number of scenarios pertaining to electric generation challenges for 90-days in the winter of 2024/2025.  Natural gas is the critical issue.  The modeling shows unavoidable “load shedding” (blackouts) in most demand-supply situations.  That’s concern enough, of course, for 14 million New Englanders.  But it’s not just their problem.  ISO cautions that utilities will repeatedly need to go to their 10-minute operating reserves as a last-ditch effort to keep the lights on.  That’s not a casual step, for many reasons.  There’s nothing else after those reserves and the situation gets close to doomsday: any subsequent generation or transmission problem (1) triggers load shedding and (2) sets up degraded conditions that could cascade across New England and “threaten the entire interconnected system of power grids from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.”  You’d think people might be concerned about that.

*  Were you at Burning Man this year, Dude?  No?  It was awesome.  What about burning plasma?  DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) meets in Gaithersburg, MD, this week.  Last January, DOE gave the Committee an assignment: “Identify the most promising transformative enabling capabilities for the US to pursue…building on burning plasma science and technology.”  The upcoming agenda includes the report: “Approval of the FESAC Report on Transformative Enabling Capabilities.”  I straight-out copied (I confess) the following from a document Burning Plasma: Bringing a Star to Earth (2004), from a National Academies Press page: “At the center of all schemes to make fusion energy is a plasma—an ionized gas that, like the center of the Sun, is heated by fusion reactions. The plasma is said to be burning when alpha particles from the fusion reactions provide the dominant heating of the plasma. All fusion reactors require a burning plasma. The key challenge is to confine the hot and dense plasma while it burns.”  Test next week.  Bring your slide rule.

Tom Ewing
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513-379-5526 voice/text

Will 2018 Meet Expectations?

Will 2018 Meet Expectations?

By Greg Sitek

The future of the U.S. is shrouded in confusion, hostility, distrust, threats, uncertainty, criticism, discord, disasters, failing infrastructure, and an almost endless list of problems. But even so, we are experiencing a growing economy high employment rates, low inflation rates, strong housing market and an equally long list of positive things.

The U.S. ended 2017 with having a string of hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria – that caused around $200 Billion dollars in damages only to be followed by a season of fires that destroyed thousands of homes, building, thousands of acres of forests and intensified the stress on an exhausted infrastructure.

Thanks to the thousands of people who have and continue to pitch in with physical help, equipment, materials and supplies hurricane recovery and rebuilding is underway but will take years to accomplish. Groups like Team Rubicon and other veteran organizations along with donations of money and equipment by manufacturers, trade association, dealers, individuals and so many others have made it possible to push ahead with what is an overwhelming task. Healing is always a slow process.

In addition to the tests thrown at us by Mother Nature, we have had a cascade of political and social speed bumps adding hazards as we travel our road into the future slowing the forward momentum and intensifying the risk.

We know what 2017 was like. What can we expect for 2018 and beyond?

Economic forecasting is always tricky and unlike weather forecasting more critically important, especially for the forecaster. We’ve all heard the comment, “Being a weather forecaster is the only job where you can be wrong most of the time and not get fired.” This doesn’t apply to the economists who look at the conditions that are, that were and that will be.

Predictions for 2018 tend to be positive with most economists confident that we will sustain continued and improved national economic growth. I haven’t heard any of them forecasting a recession in the immediate future – the next six months and beyond.

We have included construction industry forecast from leading resources: Wells Fargo Economics Group, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC). There are many others who do an excellent job of industry forecasting.

On that I wish we could have included but didn’t have room is:

Dodge Data & Analytics ( recently released its 2018 Dodge Construction Outlook, a mainstay in construction industry forecasting and business planning. The report predicts that total U.S. construction starts for 2018 will climb 3% to $765 billion.

“The U.S. construction industry has moved into a mature stage of expansion,” stated Robert Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “After rising 11% to 13% per year from 2012 through 2015, total construction starts advanced a more subdued 5% in 2016. An important question entering 2017 was whether the construction industry had the potential for further expansion. Several project types, including multifamily housing and hotels, have pulled back from their 2016 levels, but the current year has seen continued growth by single-family housing, office buildings, and warehouses. In addition, the institutional segment of the nonresidential building has been quite strong, led especially by transportation terminal projects in combination with gains for schools and healthcare facilities. As for public works, the specifics of a $1 trillion infrastructure program by the Trump Administration have yet to materialize, so activity continues to hover around basically the plateau for construction starts reached a couple of years ago. Total construction starts in 2017 are estimated to climb 4% to $746 billion.”

“For 2018, there are several positive factors which suggest that the construction expansion has further room to proceed,” Murray continued. “The U.S. economy next year is anticipated to see moderate job growth. Long-term interest rates may see some upward movement but not substantially. While market fundamentals for commercial real estate won’t be quite as strong as this year, funding support for construction will continue to come from state and local bond measures. Two areas of uncertainty related to whether tax reform and a federal infrastructure program get passed, with their potential to lift investment. Overall, the year 2018 is likely to show some construction project types register gains while other project types settle back, with the end result being a 3% increase for total construction starts. By major sector, gains are predicted for residential building, up 4%; and nonresidential building, up 2%; while nonbuilding construction stabilizes after two years of decline.”

Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has posted a radio link on its CONEXPO-CON/AGG New update. To hear it you can do so at: