BCA's Washington Briefing

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter follow us on youtube March 28, 2014




The Business Council of Alabama and 30 Chambers of Commerce and similar statewide business associations have signed a letter urging Congress to pass critical transportation infrastructure legislation.


Congress faces a critical crossroads as it begins to discuss both the solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund as well as reauthorization of the surface transportation bill passed in 2012, according to the State Chamber Policy Center. The transportation bill - Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 - expires in six months.


"In order to ensure stability and economic growth, we need to plan its successor now," the statement signed by BCA President and CEO William J. Canary said. "We urge you to act now to strengthen our nation's infrastructure and provide our economy with the support it needs to remain a global economic leader."


The BCA is one of 31 statewide business associations signing the document in support of strong national transportation investment.


The letter was sent Tuesday to Alabama's congressional delegation, members of Congress, and the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.


Congress is being asked to re-authorize the federal transportation bill and its funding for a minimum of five years; dedicate federal funds to ensure solvency of the Highway Trust Fund; give states flexibility in investing in transportation infrastructure as they see fit; and, give states the freedom to choose their own funding options.


The American Society of Civil Engineers last year gave the United States a score of D-plus on its report card for America's infrastructure. The Society said the nation's infrastructure needs an estimated $3.6 trillion in investment by 2020.

"Our deteriorating national transportation infrastructure is not a small-state issue or a large-state issue," the letter stated. "It is a national issue and it directly impacts America's competitiveness in the global marketplace."



At a Wednesday Senate hearing on the military's budget, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby questioned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus about the administration's commitment to the Littoral Combat Ship program, an issue dear to Austal USA shipbuilding in Mobile where one of two LCS models is being built.


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had reduced the budgeted number of LCS ships from 52 to 32 and had ordered ship design changes so they function somewhat like frigates.


Austal USA is building an aluminum-hulled catamaran LCS and Lockheed Martin is building a steel monohull version in Wisconsin. Austal has a contract to build ten of the Navy's joint high speed vessels and has five in various phases of construction.


Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a senior member of its Defense Subcommittee. He asked Mabus about the future of small, naval surface combatants. "Well, a small surface combatant is critical to the Navy," Mabus said.


Mabus said the Navy is considering three options for 20 additional small, surface combat ships - continue the current LCS program, pursue a modified LCS, or draw up a new design.


Mabus said "overall," the Navy still needs 52 small, surface combat ships but they need to be launched on time and on budget. Mabus said the recent ships are being built at 50 percent less cost than the first ones.

"I was pleased to hear Secretary Mabus reaffirm the Navy's need for this critical capability and praise the work done thus far on LCS," Shelby said. "Listening to his comments today on the future of the program, I am optimistic that Austal is well-positioned to continue meeting this essential requirement for our fleet."



U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, have cosponsored the Employment Impact Analysis Act that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to report on the economic impact of any new regulation.


Sessions said constituents tell of unwarranted EPA regulations that eliminate jobs. He said the EPA ignores the economic impact of proposed new air regulations on jobs, from brick makers in Selma to coal miners near Jasper.


"EPA has continued to issue excessive regulations that hammer American industry, and are a critical factor in high unemployment and energy prices," Sessions said.


The EPA Employment Impact Analysis Act would prohibit EPA from instituting new air regulations until the required jobs studies are performed, Sessions said. "Congress - not the executive branch - makes laws, and EPA should not have the power to issue any regulations without following required procedures, especially those that hinder job creation and constrain economic growth," Sessions said.

The bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has 29 cosponsors. Inhofe said "not once" has the EPA complied with the 1977 Clean Air Act requiring a job-creation analysis of regulations. Inhofe's bill would prohibit the EPA from finalizing any major regulation under the Clean Air Act until the EPA completes an analysis.


Hard GOP push wins passage of 'doc fix' 

POLITICO (Haberkorn, Sherman 3/27) "House Republican leaders found a way Thursday to swiftly circumvent bipartisan opposition to controversial 'doc fix' legislation. In neck-breaking fashion, GOP leadership took to the House floor in the morning and voice-voted a one-year patch to the Sustainable Growth Rate - a pricey formula that determines how much the government pays doctors who treat Medicare patients.


"Republican leaders worked with their Democratic counterparts to orchestrate the ploy. As members returned to the floor when the House came into session, they discovered that the bill had already passed. Nearly all of them were surprised. No one had the chance to vote no; no one had a chance to vote yes.


"In the latest in a long line of crises, physicians face a 24 percent pay cut under Medicare on April 1 if Congress doesn't act. The Senate still has to act to avert that cut. Physician groups expressed shock that the House passed the patch under the voice vote. The American Medical Association accused leadership of resorting 'to trickery to pass an SGR patch that was opposed by physicians'."

Maintaining equitable funding and formulas for the sustainable growth rate is a legislative priority of the BCA. 

OSHA's Public Disclosure Rule Won't Deliver a Safer Workplace

NAM (Lavoie 3/10) "National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Vice President of Human Resources Policy Joe Trauger issued this statement after the NAM submitted comments on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed rule to disclose injury and illness data publically:


"OSHA's proposed rule sidesteps collaborative efforts of employers and employees, and it will not accomplish our shared goal of a safer workplace. Presenting this information without context will likely confuse and undermine ongoing efforts by diverting attention and resources from activities that would have an impact. In addition, without proper context, the raw data may result in unfair conclusions or judgments about a company or particular industry based on information that is not indicative of the actual safety record. Disclosing information in the manner OSHA proposes does not serve the public good and is easily misinterpreted and mischaracterized.


"Manufacturers and their employees are committed to creating the safest possible work environments and believe OSHA already has the tools to improve workplace safety at its disposal. The mission of workplace safety would be far better served if OSHA sets aside this unnecessary rule and instead focuses on working more collaboratively with employers."


To read the full comments submitted by the NAM, click here.

U.S. Chamber and National Association of Manufacturers release statements on Obama water changes

U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Kovacs 3/25) "The U.S.  Chamber of Commerce's Senior Vice President for the Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs, William Kovacs, issued the following statement regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed rulemaking on the 'Definition of Waters of the United States' unveiled today:


"For decades, the EPA has been attempting to expand its jurisdiction over waters of the U.S., but the Supreme Court has held it in check through key rulings. This latest attempt from EPA to make virtually every river, stream, and creek in the U.S. subject to the authority of the Clean Water Act would put the agency effectively in charge of zoning the entire country. This proposed definition would more than double the miles of waterway EPA regulates, which would have serious economic repercussions. The U.S. Chamber will vigorously oppose this flawed proposal."



NAM (Yost 3/26) "The proposed rule expands their jurisdiction to further regulate things such as fire ponds, dry ditches, ephemeral or seasonal streams, cooling ponds, isolated mosaic wetlands, snowmelt and storm drainage ponds. In doing so, this will significantly impact manufacturers' ability to build new or expand existing facilities, and in some cases it will impact the ability to conduct day to day operations.


"There are hundreds of activities that currently do not require a clean water permit, but with this new rule many of these activities will now need a permission slip from the government; or at the very least require companies to inquire of the agencies to determine if a permit is necessary. Waiting for these agencies to respond could take anywhere from weeks to months.


"Another troubling aspect of this proposed rule is that the EPA chose not to wait for a final peer review of their 'Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence' study. Manufacturers are concerned about the negative impacts and uncertainty that this rule will create, and will continue to provide input to the EPA and Army Corps."

(The BCA's 2014 federal legislative agenda includes opposing efforts to expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to allow federal agencies to regulate ditches, culverts and pipes, desert washes, sheet flow, erosional features, and farmland and treatment ponds as "waters of the United States," subjecting such waters to all of the requirements of the CWA. The Business Council of Alabama is the exclusive representative in Alabama of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.)

Unemployment Extension Clears First Test Vote in Senate

Roll Call (Sanchez 3/27) "The Senate easily cleared a 60-vote threshold Thursday to advance a bipartisan extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits. With backing from Republicans, the Senate voted 65-34 to end a filibuster against bringing the bill up for debate. It'll still face the likelihood of another filibuster before final passage, expected next week.

"The Senate will debate the bill after a vote to confirm a judicial nominee - and Democratic leaders are expected to push to clear the measure before next week's end so that the Senate can next consider a Democratic measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Senate unemployment insurance bill has come under fire from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies for being difficult to implement. Those concerns were cited by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who subsequently indicated he was unlikely to bring the bill up in the House."

US Chamber of Commerce   National Association of Manufacturers