Each week, The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials Group’s (IAPMO) Vice President of Government Relations Dain Hansen provides a breakdown of what is going on across the political landscape. This week, he took a look around the world, even covering a new drastic water rationing initiative that is coming soon to São Paulo, Brazil.
The worst drought to hit São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, in decades may leave many residents with water service only two days a week. São Paulo’s water utility company, Sabesp, says a five-days-off, two-days-on system would be a last-ditch effort to prevent the collapse of the Cantareira water system.
The reservoir is the largest of six that provide water to about six million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of São Paulo. The utility says Cantareira is now down to 5.1 percent of its capacity of 264 billion gallons. A utility official, Paulo Massato Yoshimoto, said Wednesday that “rationing could happen if rainfall does not increase in the reservoir area soon.”
Details of how a rationing plan might be put in place were not released. Sao Paulo is a dramatic example of the decisions many local policymakers will be forced to make as demands on local water supplies continue to increase.
Meanwhile, in the US…
Last week in the House, public officials voted to approve legislation to expedite approval of liquefied natural gas export projects and 12 separate bills designed to counter human trafficking. The Senate finalized its debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline and various energy measures and passed legislation approving the pipeline project.
This week, the Senate will vote on a bill to address the high rate of suicides among veterans. It will then begin a lengthy debate over fiscal year 2016 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which expires on February 27.
The House will consider a bill to require government regulators to include an impact assessment on small businesses when evaluating new regulations (see below). The lower chamber will also consider legislation to prevent unfunded mandates on state and local governments. It may also schedule a vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Solar heating providing hot water in new California high-rise
A new high-rise in downtown San Diego is reaching new heights when it comes to clean energy. The building has the tallest solar electric system in the United States, which runs from the 5th to the 17th floor. The president of Adroit Energy, the company that completed the project, says the owner of the building was looking to cut long-term energy bills and integrate renewables into the low income multi-family high-rise.
"We're going to reduce our natural gas burn here, we're going to reduce the amount of energy we take off the grid. That's going to help on carbon emissions as well as air quality right here in downtown San Diego," Jim Backman said.
The high-rise also has more than 100 solar thermal collectors that generate about half of the building's hot water needs throughout the year.
Mitt Romney announced that he will not run for President of the United State. Romney was unsuccessful in his challenge to President Obama in 2012 for many reasons, but one important reason was the destructive nature of the Republican primary election that year.
Eleven candidates ran for the Republican nomination, and the primary season stretched for over a year and featured 23 debates, with 13 in 2011 alone. The candidates beat each other up and depleted their war chests in the process. Governor Romney ultimately prevailed but did so in damaged form. His reputation was dinged by his primary opponents, his campaign budget was virtually exhausted, and his approval rating among general election voters was low.
The Republican National Committee announced a series of nine primary debates for 2016—far fewer than the 23 that occurred in the run-up to the 2012 election. Primary election dates in states are also more likely to be bunched together so that the primary election features a tighter timeframe. All of these efforts are designed to limit the damage caused by a primary slugfest and put the eventual GOP nominee in a better position to compete against the Democratic nominee.
Keystone and Energy Issues
After a three-week debate and votes on dozens of amendments, the Senate finally passed a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Also included in the bill were amendments to promote energy efficiency and a symbolic statement that climate change is “real.”
The final bill that will go to President Obama, after House and Senate Republican leaders confer, will likely only address the Keystone project. After all of this work, the President has vowed to veto the bill. So, why all the fuss over this project? The two sides are trying to showcase their credentials on energy policy for the future.
Republicans believe Keystone is symbolic for how the U.S. can secure its energy independence with its allies in North America in the near term, while the President wants to move away from oil, gas and other traditional energy sources in an effort to address climate change.
Energy policy will continue to be a high priority this year, and the two contrasting goals noted above will guide the debates.
Hong Kong reports 6th Legionnaires disease case this month
The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health is investigating a new case of Legionnaires’ disease. While the elderly and the very young are often more susceptible to Legionnaires which often presents itself with pneumonia-like symptoms, this most recent case involved a 44-year old man who has a history of good health.
This is the sixth case of Legionnaires reported to CHP this year and is indicative of a growing problem for Hong Kong and other communities around the world. In 2013, 28 cases were reported while in 2014 the number of cases grew to 41. So far 2015 is set to break the previous two years records.
529 College Savings Plans
What a difference a week makes. In the face of pushback from both Republicans and Democrats, President Obama dropped his plan to tax the earnings on 529 college savings plans. The plan would have been included in the President’s budget request, which will be released this week.
Republicans, looking to “strike while the iron is hot,” in the coming weeks will look to advance legislation introduced by Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Ron Kind (D-WI) to expand the current college savings plans. This legislation would treat computers as qualified expenses, eliminate paperwork required when funds are distributed and allow taxpayers to re-deposit refunds from colleges without taxes or penalties.
It is expect that the full House will pass this 529 expansion by the end of February. Its prospects in the Senate remain unknown, but the upper chamber will watch to see if the House bill generates any excitement from middle-class parents saving for their kids’ college expenses. Our guess is that the status quo will prevail and no changes will be made to the 529 program.
Focus on Housing Finance
At a hearing last week, House Republicans had an opportunity to vent ongoing frustrations with the Obama Administration’s housing policies. In recent months, the Administration has made a few high-profile moves in the area of housing affordability and accessibility, most recently lowering the fees the Federal Housing Administration charges to guarantee mortgages.
Looming over the hearing was the question of whether Congress would make another serious attempt at comprehensive housing finance reform, and it is likely Republicans in the House will. However, particularly with a short window before the Presidential election season begins in earnest, it is difficult to see how the outcome will be improved from that of the last Congress when a Republican bill in the House and a bipartisan bill in the Senate couldn’t advance beyond approval by their respective committees.
The tough approach (eliminating Government Sponsored Enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without putting in any replacement federal backstop) favored by many House Republicans will not gain traction in a Senate where Democratic votes still are needed to pass most legislation. With the prospects dim for a major legislative feat, look for Hill Republicans to turn up the heat on their oversight of the Administration’s actions in this space.
Budget Deficit Watch
We are entering budget season in Washington. Each year, the President is required to kick off the budget season with the introduction of his budget for the next fiscal year, and President Obama will do so on February 2.
The proposed budget will get a lot of attention on Capitol Hill and will feature many of the tax and spending proposals the President outlined in his recent State of the Union address. However, very little of it will be enacted into law in the Republican-majority Congress, which will write its own budget in the spring.
With budget cuts via sequestration returning, contentious disputes over whether certain federal programs or initiatives are funded or not will be inevitable. The budget deficit for the next fiscal year is expected to be $467 billion, which is just slightly higher than the last budget deficit under President George W. Bush (fiscal year 2008 deficit was $455 billion).
The President will cite a declining deficit, which has been reduced the last few years from its high of over $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009, as a reason to justify new spending in a proposed budget that could hit $4 trillion of spending.
Pushing Back on Regulations
Republicans in Congress are examining options to confront the Obama Administration on regulatory policy. Last week, a House committee approved the “Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2015,” a bill to require government regulators to include an impact assessment on small businesses when evaluating new regulations.
Other options Republicans are focusing on are disapproving recently-enacted regulations through the Congressional Review Act, sunsetting existing and new regulations, and tying funding for regulations to limitations or eliminating funding completely.
Attacking certain government regulations will continue to be a theme for Republicans over the next two years, but the Obama veto will limit most, if not all, of what they want to do.
Education Reforms Coming?
A bipartisan initiative in education reform is slowly moving through the Senate and could be one of the first overwhelmingly bipartisan measures the chamber takes up this year. At issue is a potential reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was last updated in 2002.
The 2002 ESEA created President Bush’s education initiative, “No Child Left Behind.” While that initiative has gradually faded, many hot-button education initiatives are still in need of attention, such as how federal education programs are allocated, the potential elimination of certain regulations on schools and teachers, and the development of charter schools, among others.
The issue has a potential relevance to the 2016 presidential elections, especially with governors who may run and have already spearheaded successful education policies in their states. While Democrats have traditionally won the “education vote,” some Republicans will be drawn to the issue as a way of connecting with a new crowd of voters, while others see it as an opportunity to affirm the states’ role in setting their own standards without Big Brother’s oversight (through Common Core).
Education reforms have not been on anyone’s radar screen as a Washington priority this year, but that could change soon.
Future of Wind Energy Uncertain After Senate Vote
The Senate failed to pass on Wednesday a symbolic amendment expressing support for a five-year extension of the production tax credit for renewable energy. The failed 47-51 vote demonstrates how difficult it will be for clean-energy tax incentives to continue in their current form.
Over the last few years, Republicans who hail from wind states and have begun to tone down their enthusiasm for the tax benefit, pressing instead for a multiyear drawdown of the credit’s value before letting it expire for good. The tax credit, which in the last few years has only been extended for one or two years at a time, lapsed at the end of 2013.
Congress in December extended it retroactively through the end of 2014. The wind industry says the stop-and-start nature of the benefit lessens its value because wind-farm builders don’t have the certainty to count on it when making business decisions. Senators from the Midwest states plan to continue to support the tax benefit in some form moving forward.