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CH2M experts share insights for companies from Environmental Industry Summit

Environmental Industry Summit panelists share interesting lessons learned from the recent conference where the Climate Change Business Journal and Environmental Business Journal awarded CH2M five business achievement awards.

Environmental Industry Summit panelists Jonathon Weier, Dr. Stephen Petron, and Dale Sands share interesting lessons learned from the recent conference where the Climate Change Business Journal and Environmental Business Journal awarded CH2M five business achievement awards. The 15th Annual Environmental Industry Summit on March 22-24, in San Diego, California, offered a unique opportunity to gain valuable perspective on today's environmental industry through presentations and panel discussions from industry executives and analysts.

Jonathon Weier, CH2M Principal Technologist, Director - Valuing Nature Practice

Johnathan Weier

The uncertainty about uncertainty. The proposed spending cuts initiated by the new Administration generated varying reactions about the degree and direction of change on environmental and economic fronts affecting businesses. However, with a deeper look (a focus of the meeting), a calmer picture emerges.

As we saw in the recent $1.163 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, budgets for agencies like the EPA remained relatively even. Likewise, regulatory changes (e.g., the Clean Power Plan and climate change), while significant, are unlikely to reverse the trend in the energy sector to reduce emissions and efforts by the private sector and government to integrate climate change considerations into planning efforts.

Dr. David Victor, a well-known, political scientist at the University of California San Diego and Summit keynoter, made the point that climate change is a durable issue and has morphed from a reactive regulatory consideration to a strategic consideration for many companies. As an example, a carbon tax may still be in play as part of overall U.S. tax reform, to offset lower tax rates. If that occurs, companies out in front of the issue may see competitive advantages. A final observation related to uncertainty is that the flow of cheap energy will likely continue, a stabilizing factor benefiting the chemical industry and supporting the increase in U.S. manufacturing jobs. So, while change is certain, the degree will be constrained through the remained of 2017.

Stephen Petron, CH2M Vice President and Global Director, Environmental Planning

Stephen Petron

While all signs indicate that U.S. domestic infrastructure will be one of the areas of focus, it remains to be seen how that focus will manifest itself. There will likely be increased funding for state and local projects (e.g., transportation, water, waste water), but it remains unclear how the funds will be distributed. An increased emphasis on public private partnerships is likely, with private concerns taking a stake in what was traditionally public projects. In conjunction with the increased funding, there will likely be an emphasis on streamlining federal environmental approvals and permitting, in both brownfields and natural resources areas. While the underlying statutes may not be changed in the near future, federal agencies will be looking within their regulations for opportunities to couple permitting processes and approvals and reduce the serial nature of many permits, thereby reducing permit redundancy and approval time frames.

Dale Sands, CH2M Senior Vice President and Global Practice Director, Private Client Sector

Dale Sands

There are several global resiliency programs underway with the United Nations Office of International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Rockefeller Foundation through the RC-100 program. The increase of natural disasters coupled with the trend toward urbanization is leading to greater financial losses and concern for public well-being. There are 32 cities in North America that have been selected in the RC-100 program out of a total of 100 global cities. In the U.S., eight cities have issued their Resiliency Plans under the RC-100 program, with another 16 cities to issue their plans shortly. These Resiliency plans typically require several years to implement and often require billions of dollars in infrastructure improvement. Noting that the U.S. has suffered the second most natural disasters in the last ten years, building codes need to be updated to reflect the acute risks and chronic stresses typical of today. The number of disaster-related events worldwide has continued to increase causing over $175 billion in losses in 2016 of which $125 billion were uninsured losses. The magnitude of these losses has resulted in more collaboration between the public and private sectors to improve the resilience of their operating facilities and communities in which they operate.

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