BCA's Washington Briefing

follow us on facebook   follow us on twitter   follow us on youtubeOctober 25, 2013




President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency will be in 11 cities seeking input on emissions rules for existing power plants under his strategy to address climate change, Reuters reported. Some states already have plans in place to cut carbon pollution and will present their programs as viable models.

The agency plans to exercise the controversial, rarely used Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act and is expected to ask how states that have different energy needs and operations can use flexible rules to regulate carbon emissions from the more than 1,000 operating power plants, Reuters said.


The tour started Wednesday and will end Nov. 8. Obama set a June 2014 deadline for the agency to propose its rules to be finalized in June 2015.

Reuters reported that some support the EPA plans. Howard Feldman, director of regulatory affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, said the API is concerned that the EPA's planned regulation "goes beyond the authorization of Congress and the Clean Air Act." A representative for Kentucky has said it would not make sense for his state that relies on coal for 97 percent of its electricity to shift completely to natural gas.


The National Association of Manufacturers opposes over-regulation by the EPA in tackling power plant emissions. The Business Council of Alabama, the state's exclusive representative of the NAM, supports efforts to base environmental legislation and regulation on sound scientific study and provide safeguards to the environment without hindering economic development or imposing undue regulations on the business community. (See a related In Case You Missed It item below.)



Hydraulic fracturing has put the U.S. in first place for shale gas production, USA Today reported. Fracking, as the extraction procedure is called, enables the U.S. to produce more shale gas. Canada is second to the U.S. in shale gas production, the U.S. government reported.


Shale gas accounted for 39 percent of all natural gas produced in the United States in 2013, compared with 15 percent in Canada and less than 1 percent in China, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy. "There's no commercially viable shale gas production outside the United States and Canada," although about a dozen other countries have done exploratory testing, says Aloulou Fawzi, an EIA industry economist.


U.S. natural gas production is up more than a third since 2005 due to the cost-effective combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Fracking typically involves injecting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to force natural gas from shale into wells.


Natural gas is a growing energy source, replacing electricity production from coal-fired power plants. The EIA expects U.S. natural gas production to increase 44 percent by 2040, mostly due to using shale gas. The EIA attributed part of the recent U.S. decline in heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions to the nation's switch from coal to natural gas, which emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal per unit of electricity, the USA Today article said.


Last month, the Business Council of Alabama signed a multi-state organization letter urging EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to allow states to conduct their own hydraulic fracturing energy development policies. The letter initiated by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce's Energy Council was signed by BCA President and CEO William J. Canary and 16 other state chambers of commerce or their equivalent.



Federal Times reported Thursday that U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has introduced a bill to allow all Americans to sign up for the same health insurance that federal employees get. An Issa spokesman said non-federal employees wouldn't get the federal subsidy but private employers could subsidize insurance as an employee's benefit. Currently the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program is available only to federal employees, their dependents, and retirees.


"The American people should have as easy a consumer experience as federal employees do," Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a news release. "People can visit the [Office of Personnel Management's] website to see how easy it would be for Americans to compare health insurance prices under this system." The bill was introduced amidst the fiasco of the rollout of enrollment for Obamacare.


Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad said private companies could offer help as an employee benefit and lower-income participants could also qualify for tax credits under Obamacare. A federal employee union official objected, saying people would have to "pay the entire premium and that is something only millionaires could afford." Another union official, Drew Haulunen, said Issa is seeking to "muddle the conversation" over the Affordable Care Act.


About 8.2 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents are covered, according to the Office of Personnel Management. In 2004, presidential candidate John Kerry proposed it.



The U.S. House on Wednesday passed H.R. 3080, the bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013. The vote was 417-3. The Senate passed S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act, with strong bipartisan support in May. A conference committee to reconcile both versions is expected to be announced soon.


H.R. 3080 will ensure continued investment in our inland waterways, ports and harbors and other critical water resources projects that help keep manufacturers competitive. The bill will streamline federal agency environmental reviews and enhance delivery of key infrastructure projects supported by the Army Corps of Engineers and direct additional funding levels from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for harbor maintenance dredging.


The bill provides funding for dam, port-dredging, flood protection, and environmental restoration projects, Politico reported. These big water project bills are bipartisan affairs that have historically won by huge margins. The House measure would be the first such bill to become law since 2007, Politico reported. President George W. Bush vetoed the $23-billion bill on the grounds it was laden with pork but the House overrode it, 361-54.


Politico reported that most of the authorized money would go to projects in Louisiana, Maryland, California and Florida but 13 states in all would benefit, including Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Iowa.


Failing healthcare sign-up may have cost taxpayers $300 million 

Washington Post (Kessler 10/24) "How much did the troubled HealthCare.gov actually cost? It may be much less than you've heard. Given the vagaries of the federal contracting system, this is not an easy question to answer. But that has not stopped some people from speculating that the total is $500 million or more.


"In a June report, the Government Accountability Office said that as of March 31, $55 million had been obligated to QSSI for the data hub. GAO says it does not have any updated figures, however. The GAO report also lists a number of other contracts related to supporting the federal exchanges, totaling $394 million, but the figure includes projects unrelated to the Web site, such as call centers. The long list of contracts in the appendix of the GAO report does not give enough detail to fully determine which contracts are directly related to the Web site, though at a glance you could reduce the total to at least $350 million.


"A conservative figure would be $70 million. A more modest figure would be $125 million to $150 million. Or one could embrace the entire project, as outlined by GAO, and declare that it is at least $350 million. To sum up: The floor for spending on the Web site to date appears to be at least $170 million, with an upward potential of nearly $300 million."

29 states want the Supreme Court to consider other Obamacare mandate 

Washington Post (Chokshi 10/24) "More than half the nation's attorneys general want the Supreme Court to revisit the Affordable Care Act in the coming months. Attorneys general in 29 states urged the court in filings this week to review lower-court decisions on the landmark health care law's contraception mandate, but they were split over which of two cases the court should focus on. Both involve employers who say the law's contraception mandate violates their freedom of religion.


Eleven attorneys general, along with the White House, want the court to review a lower-court opinion that found that the contraception mandate violates a business's freedom of religion. Eighteen other state attorneys general want the court to review another opinion, which found the opposite. Dozens of lawsuits on that mandate have been filed by nonprofits and corporations nationwide.


"This isn't necessarily an easy question with an easy answer," says South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who joined the 17 attorneys general seeking a review of the ruling that upheld the law's contraception mandate. 'In other words, each side can cite supporting authority for their positions, which is why in and of itself it's important for the Supreme Court to solve this.' Jackley was joined by his counterparts in Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia."


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