A candidate who feels industry’s EPA pains

Should he prevail next month, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney can be held to his five-point Plan for a Stronger Middle Class. One bullet under the Energy Independence point would test a Romney administration’s willingness to help construction interests by reigning in the Environmental Protection Agency: “Eliminate regulations destroying the coal industry.”

The commitment is no accident for the GOP standard bearer. In a final, albeit symbolic, gesture before the election recess, U.S. House members decisively countered regulatory ambitions for which President Obama will answer to voters on November 6. They passed the Stop the War on Coal Act, which the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) describes as “a package of bills that benefit the construction industry by preventing drastic increases in energy costs, avoiding the disruption of critical supply chains and preserving jobs.”

Although Stop the War on Coal will have no bearing on business between now and at least January 20, Inauguration Day, it informs construction interests what their vote next month might mean for the industry. One section is based on the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act the House passed a year ago, establishing a baseline for coal combustion residuals disposal and preventing EPA from designating CCR, including concrete-grade fly ash, hazardous waste.

The Obama EPA’s pursuit of CCR handling and disposal regulations has been a distraction for design, engineering and construction interests, leaving them to ponder to prospect of fly ash-free concrete specifications just as public and private project officials strongly embrace material recycling and green-building practice. Coal combustion is part of the mix in another agency move affecting concrete. The NESHAP cement plant emissions rule has forced powder producers to take a hard look at cost-benefit models on mandatory upgrades for older mills representing perhaps 20 to 30 percent of domestic clinker capacity. Portland Cement Association pegs average NESHAP compliance measures at $60 million/plant. Luckily, rule implementation has been delayed two years from an initial September 2013 target.

Stop the War on Coal also includes language based on the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act of 2011, which mandates a full cost assessment of certain Obama EPA rules. According to ABC Government Affairs staff, the TRAIN Act would reclaim to Congress some of the regulatory authority the executive branch has usurped in recent years; require a cumulative economic analysis of the EPA regulations in question; and, prevent rule implementation until the analysis has been completed.

Concerns over pending and probable regulations under EPA and other federal agencies are reflected in the ENR Construction Industry Confidence Index (CICI) McGraw-Hill Construction announced last month. Among key index findings, based on input from construction and design firm executives: The industry recession will carry to mid-2013 and election of Governor Romney represents the best bet for a broad recovery beginning next year.

An ENR election poll included in CICI surveys found that 269 of 378 executives—or 71 percent—said Romney is the better choice for commander in chief, against 15 percent favoring Barack Obama and 14 percent undecided. Some survey respondents volunteered their views of President Obama as “anti-business, interfering with overall growth in the economy.”

With the prospect of higher priced raw materials, trucks, fuel and other operating inputs in 2013—EPA rules and regulations the chief cost drivers—can there be any question that polling limited to concrete and cement interests would show results more skewed than the ENR construction executive survey?