IAPMO’s industry update: snowboarding plumbers, WaterSense in peril

Share With:

Dain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry.

Here is an edited version of his update February 16, 2018

Administration Update.

WaterSense Proposed for Elimination as the President’s Budget Seeks 23% Cut at EPA. The White House is seeking to cut more than $2.5 billion from the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency — an overall reduction of more than 23 percent. The fiscal 2019 proposal released Monday marks the Trump administration’s latest attempt to shrink the reach of an agency the president once promised to reduce to “little tidbits.” The EPA already has lost hundreds of employees to buyouts and retirements over the past year, and its staffing is now at Reagan-era levels. Under the latest budget, the agency would continue to shrink in size, leaving much more of the work of environmental protection to individual states. The administration’s plan would cut several dozen programs altogether. Among them: the popular WaterSense program; funding for state radon-detection initiatives; assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border; and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water. An industry letter is being circulated for signatures to save the widely-supported WaterSense program.

Trump Surprises Lawmakers With Support For Gasoline Tax Hike. President Donald Trump surprised a group of lawmakers Wednesday by saying he would support a 25-cent-per-gallon increase in federal gasoline and diesel taxes to help pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Trump unexpectedly raised the idea of the fuel-tax increase several times during a White House meeting with a dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers from key House and Senate committees. Trump previously has said he would consider raising the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993. But it’s not been part of the discussion on his infrastructure plan, and it’s an idea that many Republicans and some Democrats have dismissed. A White House official declined to comment on Trump’s discussions in the closed-door meeting but said that all options were on the table to meet the main objectives of the president’s plan. Groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Associations support the idea of increasing the gas tax as the most efficient and easiest way to generate more money for projects. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he opposes raising the gas tax because not all drivers who now use the roads pay the tax, and not all of the money collected goes toward repairing and restoring infrastructure.

White House Energy Adviser’s Resignation Leaves Vacuum on Climate Issues. The surprise resignation this week of a top White House energy and environment adviser adds yet another wrinkle in the U.S. effort to influence how nearly 200 nations implement a global climate deal that the Trump administration wants to leave. George David Banks, named as special assistant to President Donald Trump on international energy and environment, became the latest casualty in a controversy over security clearances. Banks reportedly resigned after learning he had been denied a formal clearance to review classified information after operating for the last year with a temporary clearance. It remains unclear who will represent U.S. negotiators at the next high-level climate summit in December in Poland, where the U.S. is likely to find a difficult position for pushing other nations to make changes to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Banks had reportedly worked since his February 2017 appointment under a temporary authorization, but resigned after learning his formal security clearance was denied due to marijuana use in 2013. Banks’ appointment was welcomed by some environmental groups due to what they considered his centrist views on international engagement on climate. But he was later derided for holding a forum on the climate benefits of coal and fossil fuels at November’s COP23 climate summit in Bonn. His resignation comes just weeks after the State Department’s third-ranking official, Tom Shannon, also seen as an internationalist on climate and other issues, announced his resignation.

Infrastructure. The long-awaited White House outline for an infrastructure bill was released this week. The plan calls for $1.5 trillion to be spent on infrastructure, with $200 billion coming from federal coffers. The plan was welcomed on Capitol Hill as a starting point for action this year, but as presented, it doesn’t have much support from lawmakers from either party. Republicans don’t want to further blow up the rising budget deficit, while Democrats are wary of the proposal’s reliance on private investment and funding from state and local governments. While there is widespread support for increased investment in infrastructure in Washington, many remain skeptical of such a comprehensive package being enacted this year due to a lack of agreement over how to pay for it. Many believe there is a potential opening to enact a much smaller bill, perhaps in the $500 billion or less range, but that becomes harder the closer the calendar gets to the mid-term elections. The impact of a smaller package also may pale compared to the infrastructure needs of the country. If we do not see significant movement on an infrastructure bill in the next few months, it is believed the issue will be shelved this year.

Industry Update.

Plumber to Olympian. The life of a top U.S. snowboarder is an expensive one, but Jonathan Cheever, who is currently in the Olympics, has supported himself with a family trade. He’s a plumber. Cheever grew up sorting plumbing fixtures for his father’s business when he was 10 years old — about the same time he began snowboarding. Shortly after high school he passed the test for his own plumbing license. He tried college, but gave it up after his freshman year to move to Utah and focus on his real love — snowboarding. Less than six months later, he was on the national team — a dream come true. But the national team doesn’t financially support the snowboarders, and all that travel can add up. It was in Utah that he realized his plumbing could help support his snowboarding. “I was like, ‘Oh man, I could use some money,’ and then, you know, people I’m staying with are like ‘actually, our friends need their faucet changed or their sink changed’ or ‘they just bought a new gas range. Can you install it for them? And they’ll pay you.’” He also started doing installations for a Home Depot subcontractor. Cheever says running his own small business also meant he could get a bigger line of credit, which he used to support his snowboarding. Be on the lookout for Cheever when cheering on Team USA this weekend!

Baby Boomer Exodus Leaves Water Utilities Understaffed. Baby boomers are retiring from water utilities in record numbers and the pool of certified treatment operators to take those jobs is running dry. Workforce retention is the top issue facing water utilities in the next 5 to 10 years, according to the Water Research Foundation‘s survey of utilities. Few programs train water treatment operators — who run the equipment and control the treatment processes to keep drinking water safe and wastewater — and larger utilities are more likely to attract talented workers, leaving smaller systems in the lurch. Most of those systems serve communities of fewer than 10,000 people and the problem is especially acute among smaller and rural utilities. To attract employees, some systems like the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia, which serves 1.7 million people, drew upon its nearly 40-year-old apprentice program where younger employees are trained on the job to qualify for a license. Similarly, the Halifax County Service Authority have tried mentoring and training programs to educate younger workers, but that wasn’t enough to fill the vacancies the authority said. Water utilities want to tap into a nationwide apprenticeship program that the Department of Labor and the National Rural Water Association jointly launched in November 2017.

Many Questions as Expert Committee Begins Study of Legionella in Plumbing. Researchers, government officials, and technical experts met last week in Washington, D.C. for the first meeting of a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine investigation on minimizing the spread of Legionella bacteria in building plumbing and municipal water systems. Legionnaires’ disease sickened at least 6,141 people in 2016 in the United States and killed several hundred, a death toll that is higher than any other water-related illness in the country. Legionnaires’ cases have increased more than four-fold in the last 15 years. The study aims to shed light on a disease that was first identified relatively recently, in 1976. For water systems, the committee will look at factors that increase the risk of Legionella growth. Within the building that means water temperature, water stagnation, plumbing design, disinfection, and age of pipes. The study, expected to take 18 months to complete, is sponsored by three federal agencies — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Veterans Affairs — and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic group with an interest in microbes in cities and buildings.

Join the conversation: