In the meantime, when asked to explain the apparent disconnect between congressional authorization of NEPA waivers and representatives' criticism of the same, Jim Berard, spokesperson for the House Transportation Committee, points out that SAFETEA-LU was passed when Congress was controlled by Republicans.

“We're under new management now,” he says. “There may be things in SAFETEA-LU that we may or may not like.” In other words, the newly Democratic Congress is re-examining a number of programs instituted during the Republican era and could make changes, including legislation governing public-private partnerships.

Thanks to Democratic criticism, the FHWA may be moved to listen more closely to critics of its proposed changes to design-build rules.

One change would lift the restriction on using design-build on projects of less than $50 million. The House Democrats noted that “controversies remain” over design-build, including claims by smaller contractors that they cannot successfully compete.

Rule On Chemical Storage Expected

The Department of Homeland Security issued a final rule that would require water treatment facilities that use certain chemicals to notify the department and, if necessary, to develop security vulnerability plans.

The ruling includes Screening Threshold Quantities (STQs) for each chemical.

For example, the STQ for chlorine is 1875 lbs., so any facility that stores 1875 lbs. or more of chlorine must notify the department. By contrast, facilities that store any amount of either chlorine pentafluoride or chlorine trifluoride must submit notifications.

Facilities have 60 days from the finalization, which is expected to be June 8, to notify Homeland Security. The department will use the data to perform a “Top Screen” risk assessment. Facilities scoring in the “high risk” range must go to the next step: submitting security vulnerability assessment and site security plan that meets DHS performance standards.

The interim final rule can be found in the April 9, 2007, edition of the Federal Register. Visit www.access.gpo.gov.

—Steve Barlas has served as a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer for trade and professional magazines since 1981. In that time, he has covered nearly every federal regulatory agency, cabinet department, and congressional committee, with a special emphasis on the EPA.