Tag Archive for 'infrastructure'

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

* The US House is busy again this week on energy and environment issues with the Select Subcommittee on Chatter holding a hearing entitled, “Midterm Review and Update on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Program and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Motor Vehicles,” Thursday, September 22, at 10 a.m. in HVC-210 of the Capitol Visitor Center. The hearing will examine the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

* If you are a cow, you might be feeling a little beat up on lately, considering all of this messy methane business and global warming. Like it’s your fault, right, that Americans love milk and cream cheese and ice cream and hamburgers (make mine a cheeseburger). The US Dairy Production Stabilization Act of 1983 authorizes a national program for dairy product promotion, research and nutrition education. Is that in the same contradictory policy-class as tax breaks and subsidies to help expand petroleum and coal operations? Cow, uh, vapors and manure are significant sources of methane, a compound far worse than CO2 for trapping heat. USDA reported last week that in 2014, total milk production was 206,586 million pounds. California and Hawaii: 42,366.9 million pounds. I can’t comprehend those numbers, but how do you get this to change in a world with hungry people?

* A trillion tons. That’s the atmospheric limit for CO2 (and equivalent) concentrations. Since 1750 humans have added 600 billion tons. Beyond a trillion? Don’t think about it. And don’t get complacent about ratcheting way back to stop the next 400 billion. In fact, it can’t happen without CCS – carbon sequestration and capture. These are some of the lessons in an excellent webinar – “A Better Life with a Healthy Planet: Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions” – available from the CCS Institute, presented by David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser for Shell and a board member and former Chair of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Mr. Hone’s presentation is engaging, analytical, big-picture and jargon free. Watch it.

Have a great Monday and a great week!

Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

  • Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will testify at a meeting this week of the US House Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Hearing title: “The Department of Energy’s Role in Advancing the National, Economic, and Energy Security of the United States.” Date/time: Thursday, September 15, 10 a.m. in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Very likely, even though one will need to squint and struggle to see through swirling haze and smoke and other nefarious gases, the hearing should still provide an important glimpse into the not too distant future…
  • Last June, EPA announced it would review its regs covering emissions of hazardous air pollutants from mobile sources – usually passenger cars and light trucks. This would actually update existing regs, to assess whether controls are adequate or should be revised. This review is supposed to end in November. Interestingly, it appears that no one had any comments on this potentially difficult and controversial subject. Whaddya think – just too much going on?
  • Whew… it’s getting scary out there my peeps; not for children. It’s terrible when you get your dockets mixed up. Check out this citizen’s comments (edited just slightly) somehow within the Fish & Wildlife Service files, regarding a draft Endangered Species Act (ESA) policy:

“Dear CDC, there will be no mandatory vaccines, period. You’ve already given me SV40… Nobody, but nobody is going to give me anymore vaccines, least not till I’m too feeble to get away… Things were quite clearly spelled out in the Nuremburg code. It’s quite obvious you’re all in bed with big pharma and the CDC is full of people who stand to profit.”
Uh… would somebody please call Nurse Ratched..?Need research/reporting/writing help?

Have a great Monday and a great week!

ARTBA Reports: 2016 Primary Results Confirm Gas Tax Increase Vote Not Politically Toxic

29d04b3d-4453-4557-a059-9cf73a6a6df3A new analysis of eight states that passed legislation to increase their state motor fuel taxes in 2015 to pay for important new transportation improvements shows that 98 percent of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who supported the bill won their primary races in 2016.

“These results should dispel any notion that voting to increase the state gas tax is politically toxic,” says American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black, who conducted the research. “Voters expect lawmakers to put forward solutions to help reduce traffic congestion, improve road safety and help grow the economy. They are also willing to pay for these expanded investments.”

According to the ARTBA Transportation Investment Advocacy Center™ (TIAC) analysis, eight states—Iowa, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Georgia, Nebraska, Washington, and Michigan—approved a gas tax increase or its equivalent in 2015. Six of these states had a Republican governor and Republican majority legislature at the time the legislation was passed.

For most state lawmakers who voted on a motor fuel tax measure last year, 2016 is the first time they are facing re-election. In the eight states, 231 Democratic state legislators voted in favor of increasing state motor fuel taxes (66 percent of all Democrats in office at the time of the vote). In the 2016 primaries, 125 of these Democrats were up for re-election, with 122 winning their primary race. Just three Democrats who supported a gas tax increase and were up for re-election lost their seat in the primaries. One hundred and thirteen Democratic lawmakers voted against a gas tax increase in 2015, with 39 of those legislators up for re-election in 2016, and one losing their seat in their primary race.

In 2015, 440 Republican state legislators supported successful legislation to increase state gas taxes (65 percent of all Republicans in office at the time of the vote). In the 2016 primaries, 293 of these Republicans ran for re-election, with 287 winning, and only six losing their seat.

The ARTBA-TIAC analysis is available at www.transportationinvestment.org.

Established in 2014, TIAC is a first-of-its kind, dynamic education program and Internet-based information resource designed to help private citizens, legislators, organizations and businesses successfully grow transportation investment at the state and local levels through the legislative and ballot initiative processes.

Wells Fargo Reports The Ups and Downs of Home Sales


Wells_Fargo_Securities_logoNew Homes Sales Jump 12.4 Percent in July

New home sales took off in July, as strong job growth, low mortgage rates and increased construction brought buyers back in droves. The South accounted for most of the gain, with sales surging 18.1 percent.

Momentum Is Shifting Back Toward New Homes

  • Momentum is finally shifting back toward the new home market, particularly in the South, which has seen job growth surge this past year. Overall sales rose 12.4 percent in July, following a 1.7 percent gain in June. Sales through the first seven months of 2016 are up 12.4 percent from one year ago.
  • Home sales also rose solidly in the Northeast, surging 40 percent in July, and inched 1.2 percent higher in the Midwest.

Home Sales Heat Up in the South

  • While the Northeast posted the largest percentage gain in July, that region accounts for the smallest share of new home sales. The South accounts for well over half of all new home sales and has seen sales and new construction take off this year as job growth and in-migration have strengthened.
  • Home price appreciation moderated in July, likely reflecting the shift in sales to lower priced markets in the South.

New Homes Sales Jump 12.4 Percent in July New Homes Sales Jump 12.4 Percent in July New Homes Sales Jump 12.4 Percent in July New Homes Sales Jump 12.4 Percent in July

Existing Home Sales Stumble in July

Existing home sales fell 3.2 percent in July, following four consecutive monthly gains. Home sales continue to have trouble accelerating, reflecting a lack of inventories, appraisal issues and affordability challenges.

Tight Inventories Restrain Existing Home Sales

Existing home sales fell 3.2 percent in July to a 5.39-million unit annual pace (Top Chart), with sales of single-family homes falling 2.0 percent and sales on condominiums and co-ops tumbling 12.3 percent. Both declines marked the first drops since February.

While sales came in below expectations, the lower figures appear to have more to do with a lack of inventories than they do a lack of demand. Overall sales, which reflect closings, are down 1.6 percent from their year ago level. The number of homes available for sale, however, is down a whopping 5.8 percent from its already historically low level. As a result, homes are selling quickly. The average home stayed on the market for just 36 days and 47 percent of homes sold in July were on the market for less than one month.

On a regional basis (Middle Chart), the Northeast saw the sharpest drop, with sales plunging 13.2 percent. Sales fell 5.2 percent in the Midwest and declined 1.8 percent in the South. Sales rose in the West, however, climbing 2.5 percent. The West is home to many of the nation’s hottest housing markets, including Denver, the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle, all of which saw listings remain on the market for a median of just 32 days.

The big drop in the Northeast is likely due to a slowdown in international buyers in New York City. All-cash sales accounted for 21 percent of transactions in July, down from 22 percent in June and 23 percent one year ago. Cash sales, which are primarily investors and international buyers, accounted for the smallest share of overall sales since November 2009. Distressed sales also continued to decline. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for just 5 percent of sales in July, down from 6 percent in June and 7 percent one year ago.

While the overhang of distressed properties has largely cleared the market, the housing crash still casts a large shadow over the housing market, making it difficult for the housing market to rev completely back up. Mortgage underwriting remains stricter than it has in the past and appraisals are often too cautious as well. New home construction has also been slow to come back online, worsening supply constraints.

Moreover, the reluctance of homeowners to put their homes on the market has meant that home prices have risen much faster than income growth, which has reduced housing affordability, particularly in rapidly growing parts of the country such as the West Coast and parts of the Southeast (Bottom Chart). The run-up in home prices has also made it difficult for appraisers to evaluate properties. With many homes selling at or above asking prices, homes are often not appraising at high enough values to qualify for a mortgage, which has led to delays in closings.

Existing Home Sales Post Fourth Straight Monthly Gain Existing Home Sales Post Fourth Straight Monthly Gain Existing Home Sales Post Fourth Straight Monthly Gain

Tom Ewing: Environmental Update

Editors / Directors:

  • It started out as a sleeper but it’s moved close to the top of Regulation.gov’s “what’s trending” list: In June the Coast Guard proposed new anchorage grounds in the Hudson River from Yonkers, NY, upriver to Kingston, about 90 miles. The concerns: navigation safety and traffic flow. At this writing, over 1000 comments are in the docket, presenting a classic tangle about how a working river and freight corridor should be used – or not used, perhaps placed off-limits from activities considered, by some, as too risky and, well, too old-school. This is moving from NIMBY (not in my backyard) to DETAI (don’t even think about it).
  • Bird's-eye_view_of_Hudson_River_from_walkway_5
  • There’s no free lunch: EIA reports that CO2 from natural gas will soon surpass CO2 from coal, because of the big shift in fuel usage. (Proportionately, of course, there’s less CO2 because of the nature of the two fuels.) This raises questions – how long can natural gas bridge from coal and petroleum to _______ ? At last month’s National Petroleum Council meeting DOE Secretary Moniz placed a lot of faith in Big Innovation (his term: “mission innovation”, but it’s gonna have to be big..!) an international effort to double worldwide energy R&D from $15 to $30 billion in the next five years. It takes a lot of work to change the temperature of a planet…
  • Last week, DOE presented its “Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy,” an important document, hopefully not too late. It’s from the White House and it’s supposed to coordinate executive agency work. I first saw reference to it in a May, 2014, GAO report. To be honest the lengthy new doc recounts a lot of old work, work that so far hasn’t produced much fuel, just plenty of headlines. (More on this after a closer look.)

Need research/reporting/writing help?

Have a great Monday and a great week!

Tom Ewing

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