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Talking E: America’s Crumbling Infrastructure: An Engineer’s Nightmare, or a Great Opportunity?

September 22nd, 2011

On a daily basis, we drive on paved roads over bridges, take hot showers, turn the lights on and off, and take out the trash. Most of us take these activities for granted because after all, we live in a modern country, not a developing nation. However, experts are warning that if America doesn’t act soon, it will have the infrastructure of a third-world country within a few decades.

  • Citing a report released in July by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which found that America’s crumbling surface transportation infrastructure will cost the economy more than 877,000 jobs, U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, renewed calls for Congress to create a surface transportation bill that provides the investments necessary to tackle the well documented backlog of highway, bridge, and transit infrastructure needs.“Today’s report provides the cold hard truth that America’s economic recovery and long-term competitiveness will suffer if we continue to under-invest in our future,” said Rahall.  “The report paints a disturbing picture of how America’s small businesses and middle class family incomes will be affected by our Nation’s deteriorating surface transportation systems.”
  • For the past few years, evidence of America’s crumbling infrastructure has been hard to ignore, from the devastating breach of New Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big bridge in Minneapolis last summer.
  • In 2005 the ASCE estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to be 70% greater than in 1998.
  • Thanks to soaring oil prices, a surge in demand for buses and trains has revealed aging transport systems in big cities and underinvestment in small ones.
  • America’s aging water infrastructure is tremendously underfunded: the Environmental Protection Agency forecasts an $11 billion annual gap in meeting costs over the next 20 years.
  • America’s transport network is similarly dysfunctional, says a recent Urban Land Institute report. The ports in Los Angeles and New York are overloaded. Flight delays cost at least $15 billion each year in lost productivity. Congestion on the roads costs $78 billion annually in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted gas. Our railways are old, and America’s only “high-speed” train runs between Boston and Washington, DC, on an inadequate track.

Obviously, the U.S. has invested very little in infrastructure over the last few decades. The ASCE began researching and grading the state of the nation’s infrastructure 10 years ago and determined that every area from aviation to roads to wastewater needs serious attention. To repair all the areas of infrastructure to good condition or a grade of “B” will cost $1.6 trillion over 5 years time.

This should mean additional work for thousands of engineers, if the government allots the money necessary to make these much-needed repairs. Terence O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, says 47,500 jobs will be created for every $1 billion the government spends on infrastructure.


What is the Effect of the Current Middle East Turmoil on U.S. Domestic Oil Drilling?

August 5th, 2011

Political instability in the Middle East in recent months has captured the world’s attention but it has also agitated oil markets. Governments across the globe are worried that sustained unrest will escalate oil prices past $100 per barrel, choking the struggling economic recovery in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.

Instability in nations with oil reserves threatens the production, transportation, and deliveries of oil. Since oil prices are set on the world market, such events affect the world oil price. Therefore, it matters very little that the United States imports minimal amounts of crude from Libya and Algeria and none at all from Iran. Unrest in these nations will raise prices and slacken our economic recovery. Meanwhile, higher prices will mean pain at the pump for families and higher profits for the Big Five oil companies.

Democrats are calling for a short-term, immediate fix — tapping into America’s oil reserves. They also urged the president to do more to encourage the development of “clean-energy alternatives.”

Republicans, on the other end, used the Libya crisis as another example of why the United States should expand domestic drilling.

“Americans are feeling the pain at the pump as gasoline prices climb …. Tapping the [Strategic PetroleumReserve] may provide some temporary relief but we must consider America’s long-term energy security,” said Republican Representativ. Doc Hastings of-Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.”Short-term releases of oil from our strategic reserves does not replace the 300,000 barrels a day this administration has squandered due to inaction on offshore drilling permits, nor will it put the thousands of people in the Gulf back to work.”

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pushing to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing the unrest in the Middle East. A ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski has said, “For the sake of our national security, for the sake of our economy, and for the sake of our world’s environment, America should produce as much of the oil that it uses as possible.”

The Obama administration has shown little interest in expanding domestic drilling since the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A deepwater drilling ban put in place after the spill has been lifted, but the Interior Department also announced it would ban any new drilling in the eastern Gulf and off the East Coast for at least seven years.

Democrats say better fuel economy and alternative-energy investment will insulate the market from foreign oil disruptions.

Lawmakers aren’t the only ones calling for pro-oil and gas policies out of Washington. The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) said in a statement, “These messages from Washington and beyond underscore the need for increased domestic energy production. Rather than wait for stability to come out of an inherently unstable region of the world, Congress should look for ways to enhance America’s own energy resources, beginning with an improved oil and gas leasing process.”

Daniel Weiss, a director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, wrote in a USA Today column that “drill, baby, drill” will not suffice. He said new drilling would take years to yield anything from the Gulf.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the administration has “the capacity to act” but is currently just monitoring the situation.


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