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Washington update

Jan. 31, 2016
Debate Begins on Senate Energy Bill Senate Democrats Pitch $400 Million Fix for Lead Pipes in Flint California PACE Program Creating Jobs Corporations would have a new way to protect their trade secrets Michigan hotel evacuated after guest contracts deadly bacteria

Last week the House cancelled all business as Washington shoveled out from its recent snow and Democrats headed to their 3-day policy retreat in Baltimore. The Senate began floor debate of a comprehensive energy bill (more below).

Next week the House returns from their break to take up an Iran sanctions measure while the Senate looks to wrap up work on it energy legislation.

Debate begins on Senate energy bill

Senators are working through over 130 amendments that have been proposed to the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) as it hit the floor. Yesterday proved to be a busy day as the upper chamber approved 11 amendments amid a notable lack of partisan heat. That mood may change when they get back next week.

The five-part legislation, which includes a measure to expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas exports, received an early boost after the White House stopped short of issuing a veto threat for the legislation and Senate Democrats announced they wouldn't block the bill from moving forward. But the White House also outlined a number of concerns with provisions in the bill that would eliminate Energy Department programs designed to increase energy efficiency at manufacturing facilities and eliminate independent certification requirements for Energy Star products.

The bipartisan spirit will likely begin to erode next week as a number of poison pill amendments still have to be disposed of. However, there is a genuine interest to see this bill pass as it includes a wide range of provisions that would increase cybersecurity protections for the electricity grid and expedite the licensing process for hydropower projects. If enacted into law, it would be the first broad rewrite of energy policy since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Senate Democrats pitch $400M fix for lead pipes in Flint

Senate Democrats on Thursday proposed $400 million in new emergency federal funding to replace and fix lead-contaminated pipes in Flint, Michigan. The bill requires the state of Michigan to match federal spending, dollar for dollar. Democrats say state officials have a primary responsibility to fix the crisis "because they made a number of irresponsible decisions that caused it."

The measure also requires federal action if a state refuses to warn the public about unsafe water and authorizes $20 million a year to monitor lead exposure in Flint. Bill sponsors are seeking to move the measure through as an amendment to the broader energy legislation. While its future is uncertain, it is helping to highlight to members of Congress the challenges posed by an aging water infrastructure.

California PACE Program creating jobs

Officials at the HERO Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program this week announced that more than 10,000 local jobs have been created in California through HERO projects completed in more than 50,000 homes since the program launched in December 2011. HERO financing enables homeowners to make energy- and water-efficiency improvements and to pay for them over time through their property tax bill. This financing may have tax benefits and homeowners may see immediate savings on utility bills.

New jobs created by the program are primarily for contractor services in the clean-energy economy in communities throughout the state. The majority of homeowners who choose HERO had a system in their home fail or need replacement or an upgrade. In addition to creating jobs, the 50,000 homeowners will save an estimated $2.2 billion on lower utility bills, conserve 7.8 billion kWh of energy, reduce emissions by 2.1 million tons or the of equivalent taking 400,000 SUVs off the road for a year, and save more than 2.9 billion gallons of water or the equivalent of 92 million showers. A recent study conducted showed that on average homes with HERO improvements sell at a price premium that can range from $199 to more than $8,800.

Michigan hotel evacuated after guest contracts deadly bacteria

Officials from Lac Vieux Desert Resort Casino in upstate Michigan say the Legionella bacterium, which causes Legionnaire's disease, has been found in the the resort's hotel. After one guest contracted the illness, they evacuated the building. Water samples from the hotel tested positive for the bacteria.

Officials say they have already begun sanitizing, and will not re-open until they are confident it's safe. Legionnaire's disease is a water-borne bacterium that transmits through mist. It's most commonly found in buildings with complex water systems, like hotels. It can't spread person-to-person. The outbreak could have serious economic repercussions for this small community. The closure could mean big losses for the resort as winter tourism brings in much of their business. Beyond the resort, other nearby businesses are likely to suffer as well with few tourists equating to less shopping and dining out.

Bill to help companies guard trade secrets on Senate fast track

Corporations would have a new way to protect their trade secrets -- access to federal courts -- under a bill advancing in the Senate. The bill, S. 1890, which would allow companies to sue potential violators in civil court, sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday on a voice vote. Senators suggest it’s the kind of measure, broadly supported by industry groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and major corporations like Microsoft Corp. and DuPont Co., that could reach President Barack Obama’s desk despite a short schedule and the pressures of an election year.

Officials from Lac Vieux Desert Resort Casino in upstate Michigan say the Legionella bacterium, which causes Legionnaire's disease, has been found in the the resort's hotel.

Companies now generally have to seek remedies for the theft of trade secrets in state courts, which isn’t ideal, particularly for situations like the theft of trade secrets by companies in other countries -- something that has become increasingly prevalent. The bill is supported by both Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senators say it could move quickly on the chamber’s floor if it doesn’t run up against an unexpected hitch such as running into unexpected objections on the Senate floor or being drawn into a broader effort to overhaul the patent system.

Obama and House Speaker Ryan to hold first meeting

President Barack Obama will meet this week with the U.S. House speaker, Republican Paul Ryan, for the first time since his ascension to the post in October, the White House announced on Friday. The Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will also participate in the meeting.

The meeting was delayed by the snowstorm that struck Washington. Obama and Ryan share some policy goals, including an interest in overhauling the U.S. criminal justice system and concluding a large trade pact with Pacific Rim nations, but there is also a history of tension between them. There is a lot of recent history between the pair. In 2011, Obama ridiculed Ryan’s proposal to overhaul the government’s budget in a speech that Ryan attended. The next year, Obama’s re-election opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, chose Ryan as his running mate. Ryan has also repeatedly sought to repeal Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

North Korea Sanctions Bill approved by Senate committee

Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved bill that would sanction individuals who aid North Korea’s nuclear program, cyberattacks, as well as censorship or human rights abuses. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado). According to Gardner, “North Korea’s fourth nuclear test earlier this month marks the third nuclear test to take place during the Obama Administration, providing further evidence that Pyongyang’s capabilities are growing and reaffirming that we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the North Korean threat.”

The bill has 14 Republican cosponsors, incl. Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla. This measure is similar to another bill passed in House this month that would authorize sanctioning companies that contribute to North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile development, send luxury goods to the country, or aid human rights abuses or censorship.

The DeLorean is back…thanks to help from Congress

The DeLorean Motor Company of Humble, Texas plans to start production of a souped-up version of the super-cool gull-wing icon from the three-decade-old Back to the Future franchise, and it’s all thanks to an act of Congress. The company credits a provision tucked into December’s highway bill freeing manufacturers of small-volume replica vehicles from sweeping regulatory requirements faced by makers of new cars.

The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act, H.R. 2675, was added to the highway bill. The replica vehicles are still subject to equipment standards, recalls and remedies, the company said, and must meet Clean Air Act emissions standards. The resurrection is also a testament to the love of customers around the world for Dr. Emmett Brown’s time-traveling car. About 9,000 DeLoreans were built between 1981 and 1983 in Ireland before the original company went bankrupt. Other companies also plan to use the new law to sell modern replicas of iconic sports cars such as the Shelby Cobra, Shelby Daytona Coupe, Ford GT40, and Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport.

The resurrection [of the DeLorean] is also a testament to the love of customers around the world for Dr. Emmett Brown’s time-traveling car.

The winner of the Iowa Caucus will be determined by voter turnout

With polls showing relatively tight races in both parties, attention is now turning to which candidates will have the best get-out-the-vote operations. That's because what matters in Iowa is turnout. Just ask Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who's lately seen his Iowa poll numbers register within one point of chief rival Hillary Clinton. A look at recent cycles shows a definite trend among registered Democratic voters to actually come out on caucus night, a plus for Sanders.

Yet the bar set by then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, when almost 240,000 Democrats participated, will be a very difficult one to meet. On the Republican side, past cycles' candidates have struggled to energize the base and fill caucus halls. Turnout has hovered around 20 percent of registered party voters for the past two presidential election years, according to groups that track the statistics—compared to 40 percent for Democrats in 2008.

As for who he thinks is most likely to benefit from a surge in new Republican caucus participants: Donald Trump. The University of San Francisco professor Ken Goldstein concurs. “If you think the Iowa caucus electorate is going to be a bit over 120,000 people and have the composition that it typically does, then Cruz will likely win,” he said. “If you think that both the size and shape of GOP caucus participants is likely to be larger and different, then Trump will likely win.”

Impact of Super PACs

The super PACs have been responsible for the majority of the television advertising we have seen so far, particularly in Iowa. Most ads have been negative and designed to tear other candidates down. The impact has been most severely felt by the “establishment” Republicans, who have taken incoming fire from like-minded candidates who want to be the establishment alternative to Trump and Cruz. In the process, these candidates have cannibalized each other and opened up new avenues for Trump and Cruz to win.

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