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Big Stick Enforcement


January 7, 2011 – In an unprecedented legal case, the Labor Dept. and Massey Energy's Freedom Energy Mining Co. have reached a settlement where MSHA sought a court injunction on the "belief" of a pattern of violations. Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith said the "Labor Dept. is very excited by this settlement," noting that most of the settlement provisions go "above and beyond the normal requirements contained in the Mine Act." According to Rock Products columnist Ellen Smith, publisher of Mine Safety and Health News, "The settlement has the potential to affect every mine operator in the U.S." To initiate an enforcement action, MSHA needs only to believe there is a pattern of violations. Think about it. Using whatever criteria they wish to use. If MSHA suspects there is a pattern of violations, you can be shut down. This goes way beyond what they industry has heretofore experienced with regard to enforcement  strategy. Stay tuned for more on this in the future.

Indiana dreaming

indiana-stateJanuary 5, 2011 – Traveling in the great state of Indiana today, home of John Mellencamp, James Dean, Notre Dame and the Indianapolis Colts. According to the latest information from the U.S. Geological Survey, total aggregates production here increased 0.9 percent in the third quarter of 2010. Crushed stone production increased 1.1 percent, while sand and gravel production increased 0.5 percent. The best that can said for production in Indiana is that it didn't decrease. According to Ed Gehr, Martin Marietta Aggregates, president of the Indiana Mineral Aggregates Association, "dry fall weather throughout the state created ideal conditions for heavy highway construction as well as one of the busiest fall agricultural Aglime seasons on record. Hopefully the dry weather conditions provided a bright spot for our member businesses as the industry continues to suffer the effects of the poor national economy."

Cement takes a jump

usgsJanuary 4, 2011 – The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) just released October cement shipment numbers, and the results are encouraging. Total shipments of portland and blended cement in the United States and Puerto Rico for October 2010 were 7.0 million metric  tons (Mt). This was 14 percent higher than shipments in October 2009. Year-to-date shipments through October  were 60.1 Mt, down slightly from those of the same period in  2009.

Read more: Cement takes a jump

Study to shape Great Lakes shipping

USDOTJanuary 3, 2011 – A lot of stone gets shipped on the Great Lakes, and shipping is a vital part of the Great Lakes region economy. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration will hold three public meetings to gather data and comments for the agency's U.S.-Flag Great Lakes Fleet Revitalization Study.  It will include reviewing investment options for the revitalization of the fleet and related regional maritime infrastructure, an overview of existing market conditions, an inventory of the U.S.-flagged Great Lakes vessels and regional port infrastructure, an examination of private/public sector financing options, and a benefit-cost analysis for each of the investment options. 

Read more: Study to shape Great Lakes shipping

GOP rules proposal could reduce highway funding

nssgaNSSGA is sounding the alarm bells! The House Republican Conference will hold an organizational meeting at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, January 4, 2011, to consider amendments to the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 112th Congress.  Among the changes proposed, highway funding, with some exceptions, will now be treated as other general spending and therefore be subject to any member attempt to reduce the spending level. Under current rules, any member of the House can raise a point of order against legislation reducing federal highway funding levels from those set in the controlling multi-year reauthorization bill.

This rule change in essence repeals the guaranteed funding requirement for annual federal highway investment and returns the process to the pre-TEA-21 era.  Prior to the enactment of TEA-21, funding levels were set lower than the incoming HTF revenue stream so as to offset spending in other parts of the federal budget.  As this operated in the past, the HTF accrued large balances while infrastructure needs went unmet.

NSSGA has signed on to a coalition letter organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials opposing this rule change.  If you have the opportunity between now and Jan. 4, please call your Republican House members and ask them to oppose this rule change. You can reach them and their staff at their Capitol Hill offices by calling NSSGA's Washington Action Hotline at (866) 255-3207 to be connected directly to the U.S. Capitol Switchboard.

Tell them to drop the proposed House Rules change on highway funding because:
  • This change would disrupt the entire concept of the federal gas tax as a user fee by allowing funding to be withheld and large balances built up in the HTF while the nation’s infrastructure needs go unmet.
  • Unemployment in the American transportation construction sector is double the national average, exceeding 18 percent.  This rule change would only add more uncertainty to funding levels and thus prevent large-scale job creating projects from moving forward.
  • Instead of a rule change, what Congress really needs to do is work to enact the overdue multi-year surface transportation program reauthorization.