Legislative Announcements

 


FERC Confirmation Hearing Scheduled; Environmental Groups Call for Delay

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D–Wash.) announced on May 18 that their committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominees for two seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The panel will also consider the nomination of Dan Brouillette to be deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.

On May 8, President Trump nominated Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to be FERC commissioners. More than 160 environmental groups responded on May 15 by calling on Murkowski to postpone the hearings while lawmakers probe the President’s potential conflicts of interest and ties to foreign governments. Representatives of the groups believe that Trump’s FERC picks could be subject to “behind-the-scenes pressure” from the President.

While Murkowski did not heed their call, the confirmation process got off to a slow start due to a delay in required paperwork from the White House. The Memorial Day recess week and a crowded floor schedule means it could be several weeks after the hearing before the full Senate will vote on the nominees. Since February, FERC has been one member short of a three-member quorum needed to approve new projects and regulations.

NWPPA tracks numerous policies that pass through FERC, including market policies and reliability standards.


House Ways and Means Committee Holds First Hearing on Tax Reform

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On May 18, the House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing this Congress on tax reform, a top priority for the Trump Administration and congressional Republicans. The hearing was intended to take a broad view of the economic impacts various aspects of tax reform could have. The committee heard from executives of large and small businesses as well as leaders of investment firms, including John Stephens, CFO of AT&T and Steven Rattner, a former Obama Administration economic advisor and now chairman of Willett Advisors.

There was broad agreement among witnesses and committee members of both political parties on the importance of reforming the tax code in a comprehensive, deficit-neutral, and long-lasting way as opposed to only reducing tax rates for a more limited period of time. Several members of both parties agreed that the committee should not attempt to separate corporate tax reform from individual tax reform. Lowering corporate rates, allowing full expensing of capital investment, simplifying compliance, and encouraging companies to bring foreign profits home were the policy proposals that dominated the hearing; however, there was little discussion about how to offset the costs of these changes. 

While there was no discussion of tax-exempt municipal bond financing, Rep. Ron Kind (D–Wis.) expressed his support for linking tax reform to an infrastructure bill, and noted how the centrist New Democrat Coalition recently sent a letter to President Trump asking that he do so.


Senate Panel Votes on Regulatory Reform Bills

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On May 17, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a markup on several regulatory reform bills, including the Regulatory Accountability Act (S.951), the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017 (REINS Act) (S.21), the Midnight Rules Act (S.34), and the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvement Act (S.584). In different ways, the bills would streamline the federal rulemaking process, impose cost controls, and give Congress more direct authority in finalizing regulations.

Chairman Ron Johnson (R–Wis.) initiated the markup by reiterating Congress’s work over the last few months to roll back some of the rules issued at the end of the Obama administration using the Congressional Review Act. While both he and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) agreed that the committee should consider bipartisan ways to “reduce regulatory burden and improve the quality of the regulatory process,” McCaskill believed that several bills under consideration should be re-evaluated due to a lack of bipartisan support. The committee ultimately voted to advance each bill to the full Senate with several passing narrowly along party lines.


EPA Asks Court to Indefinitely Extend Pause in Clean Power Plan Litigation

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On May 15, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a brief in response to the D.C. Circuit’s 60-day “pause” in litigation over the Clean Power Plan, arguing that the case should be held in abeyance indefinitely to conserve agency and judicial resources. The court had requested briefs on whether abeyance (pausing the litigation) or remand to EPA would better serve litigants needs. The EPA argued in its brief that remand would call into question the legal status of the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule, issued in February 2016 and still in effect. The rule’s challengers also filed a brief in support of indefinite abeyance that cited a previous case in which holding a case in abeyance allowed the court to retain jurisdiction over the matter and decide the case on its merits.

On the same day, supporters of the rule filed a brief arguing that indefinite abeyance would allow the EPA to circumvent the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court’s stay was intended to apply during judicial review, not during a full reconsideration by the agency, the brief argues.


Senate Infrastructure Subcommittee Discusses Federal Funding for Infrastructure

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on May 16 entitled, “Leveraging Federal Funding: Innovative Solutions for Infrastructure.” The subcommittee heard from Eric Garcetti, mayor of the City of Los Angeles; Tim Gatz, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority; Geoffrey Yarema, partner for Nossaman LLP; Kevin DeGood, director of Infrastructure Policy for the Center for American Progress; and Aubrey Lane Jr., secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

DeGood suggested that public-private partnerships (P3s) are not necessary to encourage investment in infrastructure as the strong municipal bond market is meeting current demand. “Proponents of P3s talk about the need to get private capital ‘off the sidelines.’ This assumes project sponsors face capital scarcity. This is simply wrong,” he said. “The municipal bond market is robust, with more than $3.8 trillion in outstanding issuance and a strong appetite for new offerings.”

The witnesses described the challenges they have experienced with public-private partnerships and infrastructure financing, highlighting how oftentimes such partnerships are not conducive to long-term infrastructure planning and investment. They also emphasized the need for the federal government to directly fund infrastructure improvement projects while also committing to a long-term plan to guide future infrastructure funding from both local and federal revenues.

NWPPA has a standing resolution supporting tax-exempt municipal bonds as a means for public utilities and local governments to finance infrastructure projects.


Resources Committee Reviews WAPA Oversight, Water Rights Bill

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On May 18, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the Western Area Power Administration Transparency Act (H.R. 2371), a bill to improve customer visibility over WAPA’s budgeting and spending in the wake of ongoing concerns about the agency’s unobligated balances through a publicly available website.

WAPA amassed unobligated balances as a result of moving from customer prepayment of operating costs to a “net zero” appropriation. The agency failed to rescind funds that were appropriated but not used back to the Treasury, leading to critical reports from the Government Accountability Office and several negative press stories.


House Leaders Create Bipartisan Task Force on Intergovernmental Relations

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On May 18, Speaker Paul Ryan (R–Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) announced the creation of the bipartisan House Task Force on Intergovernmental Relations, which will focus on improving dialogue and “restoring the balance of power” between the federal government and state, local, and tribal governments.

The task force includes several former state legislators and mayors. The group will be chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop (R–Utah), its only westerner.