This Week. The Senate voted to approve several nominees to various posts, and debated, but failed to advance a larger federal appropriations bill. The House passed several appropriations bills, including the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015.
Next Week. The Senate continues its work on various appropriations bills. The House plans to vote on bill that will reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, along with bills on energy production and lowering gas prices.
House Leadership. In an expected and largely uncontested race, Republican members of the House elected Kevin McCarthy to be the next majority leader. The position, Majority Whip, vacated by Rep. McCarthy was not as easy. In a fierce battle, Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Steve Scalise emerged victorious as the third most powerful position in House Leadership.
It was expected that McCarthy would be voted in as the new Majority Leader; however, voting RSC Chairman Scalise as the Whip shows the stronghold the conservatives maintain in the House of Representatives. The RSC has long been known as the most conservative caucus on the Hill, and for the chairman of this conservative body to take such a high-ranking position in House Leadership shows who has the voice in the House chamber.
Michigan energy efficiency bill includes water. Michigan’s House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 5397) that allows city governments to develop programs financing energy projects. The bill’s definition of energy efficiency improvement includes measures to reduce the usage of water or increase the efficiency of water usage. The bill will now moves to the Senate for consideration. It is expected that this bill will pass the State Senate and be ultimately signed by the Governor.
WaterSense Accomplishments. The EPA WaterSense program released its report outlining accomplishments of the program. Since the inception of the WaterSense program in 2006, $14.2 billion in energy and water bills and 757 billion gallons of water has been saved from using WaterSense-labeled products. Nearly 3,000 organizations have joined EPA to promote WaterSense-labeled products, and nearly 11,000 different models of products have earned the WaterSense label. The full report can be downloaded here.
Reverse Mortgages. With swirling claims of deceptive marketing to seniors, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) issued guidance with the purpose of protecting those considering or currently using the reverse mortgage program. The full letter from FHA can be found here. In short, the guidance the mortgagor has the ability to change method of payment at any time, must allow fixed rate mortgages, annually and monthly adjustable rate mortgages, and fixed interest rate mortgages are limited to the Single Disbursement Lump Sum payment option. With the ever-increasing marketing toward seniors, at minimum further guidance from FHA shows they are aware of the situation and are monitoring the practices.
Freshwater Supply Concerns. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report, “Freshwater: Supply Concerns Continue, and Uncertainties Complicate Planning,” with some expected yet startling figures. As an example, according to GAO, 40 of 50 state water managers expect shortages in their states in the next 10 years. GAO was asked to report on freshwater availability, expectations of water access over 10 years, actions taken by states to address this, and actions by the federal government. While this report does a great job highlighting the forthcoming issues, it does not provide recommendations on how or who should address the concerns raised in the report. It is likely a member of Congress or committee will hold a hearing on the issues raised in the report.
Rising Gas Prices. Debate around passing legislation affecting gas prices generally occurs in the summers when prices often rise as families gas up the SUV to go to the beach or mountains for vacations. Motorists seem to notice gas prices more at these times, hence the congressional attention to them now. Rising gas prices have been getting some media and Capitol Hill attention over the last month, and the House will vote on measures next week that are designed to spur U.S. energy production and have a positive impact on prices at the pump. One such measure seeks to expedite the export of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) to our allies. To date, the administration has approved six export applications, while another 24 are awaiting action. The bill approves the pending applications and eliminates other red tape in approving applications benefitting certain countries. The House will easily pass this legislation, but, as usual, it is unlikely the Senate will concur and pass this bill.
Massachusetts recognizes the power of thermal energy. In Massachusetts this week, the Senate committee on ways and means passed a bill (SB2214) which provides a tax credit for thermal energy that is used in production and for measures such as heating, cooling, humidity control, etc. and for which fuel or electricity would otherwise be consumed. The bill will now go before the full Senate for consideration.
Prisoners Going Green. At a ribbon cutting ceremony this week, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons touted its water conservation efforts in promoting the opening of its 120th facility. Located in West Virginia, the new facility has a rated capacity of 1,152 beds in six housing unit. The facility features laundry recycling systems that will save over two million gallons of water per year. In addition, other measures include efficient plumbing fixtures, such as low-flow showers and toilets, and highly efficient HVAC systems.
Internet Tax Freedom. The House Judiciary Committee passed the “Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act” this week. This legislation would permanently extend the current ban on Internet access taxes and on discriminatory taxes on e-commerce. This ban is currently scheduled to expire on November 1. Without passage of this bill or an extension, state legislatures and city councils could pass Internet surcharges as a means to fill declining coffers. This bill also has companion legislation in the Senate that has wide bipartisan support. While an extension of this current law has broad support, it could also serve as a magnet for other legislation that wants to attach itself to must-pass legislation. One such candidate is the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which allows states to collect online sales tax from out-of-state Internet merchants. MFA has passed the Senate, but the House has resisted it. It is believed an extension of the ban on Internet access taxes will become law before November. It may not be made permanent as Senators may want to tie it to the fate of MFA at another time.
Mississippi mayor tackling backflow prevention. Mayor Hal Marx is getting serious about preventing sewer water from backing up into homes in his community. The Mayor even went so far as to recently send out a letter to local residents in Petal, Mississippi, encouraging them to call a plumber to install a back-flow preventer in their sewer pipes.
Keystone Pipeline. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week passed legislation approving the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. The approval was symbolic and advanced by Chairman Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is engaged in a tough re-election battle in a major energy producing state that could determine which party controls the Senate next year. While Chairman Landrieu supports the project, most of her Democratic colleagues in the Senate do not. Most importantly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) opposes the project, which makes a vote in the full Senate on the bill unlikely. The unknown is whether the politics of this week’s action work in Senator Landrieu’s favor — do they show her clout as the chairman of the energy committee to pass the bill or do they show her liability as a Democrat unable to pass the bill beyond the committee in a Senate controlled by her party? In the meantime, a decision by the President on the Keystone project will be made after the election. A decision could be made late in 2014 around the holidays — after the elections during the lame duck session.