This Week: The House voted on legislation allowing families of 9/11 victims to Saudi Arabia. The Senate considered, but failed to agree on a Zika Virus funding package.
Next Week: The House will vote on bills to block changes to medical expense tax deduction under Obamacare, another bill to prohibit transfers of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, as well as legislation on VA accountability. The Senate will likely vote on the Water Resources Development Act (more below), and are hoping to adjourn at the end of the week until after the elections.
WaterSense’s Time to Shine? After years of trying to get congress to officially authorize the hugely popular EPA WaterSense program, it seems congress is on the cusp of victory. The Water Resources Development Act, or known as WRDA, combines Corps of Engineers projects and aid to water systems, including an IAPMO-advocated provision authorization and praising WaterSense. WRDA also would authorize 29 infrastructure projects for navigation, port improvements, flood control and environmental restoration. Unlike a typical WRDA bill, it also would authorize much financial assistance for drinking water and wastewater systems, including the Flint, Mich., drinking water system plagued by lead contamination. The assistance for drinking water and wastewater systems has been especially important to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who regards this bill as her swan song before retirement from the Senate. Authorizing WaterSense has been a top lobbying priority for IAPMO for years, and now House leaders have already indicated willingness to act on the legislation (pending Senate approval) during the lame duck session.
Energy Bill Saga Continues. Energy efficiency emerged as one of the battle lines as House and Senate negotiators convened their first formal conference this week on what could be the broadest energy measure in 10 years. Both the Senate and the House have passed difference comprehensive energy bills over the past Congress, and while there is some overlap between the House and Senate bills on things like promoting efficiency, grid modernization and liquefied natural gas exports, plenty of tough fights lay ahead, particularly on building code and California drought language, which is a priority for House Republicans. House and Senate leaders have already indicated that if an agreement is met on the Conference Report, both chambers will wait for a vote until the lame duck session.
Energy efficiency emerged as one of the battle lines as House and Senate negotiators convened their first formal conference this week.
House Passes 9/11 Lawsuit Bill Opposed by Saudi Arabia. The House voted in favor of Senate-passed legislation that would allow families of the Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for liability in the attacks. Saudi Arabia objects to the bill, S. 2040, and the White House has said it’s "strongly opposed." A White House official said Wednesday that Obama’s opposition to the bill remains steadfast even as it appears to being moving toward passage. The White House has said it opposes the bill because of potential threats against U.S. service members and diplomats abroad if the international principle of sovereign immunity is weakened. The bill would permit civil claims against foreign officials and states for terrorist acts that occur within the U.S. That would enable courts to impose liability and assess financial punishments. The Senate has already indicated that the measure has enough congressional support to override a veto.
New Overtime Rule Set To Go Into Effect on December 1st. The construction industry is closely following potential legislative fixes to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule that takes effect on December 1. The final overtime rule, published by the DOL in May, raises the threshold for employees who are exempt from overtime pay to $47,476 – more than double the current salary threshold of $23,660. The new rule also automatically updates the threshold every three years without taking into account economic or geographic circumstances or stakeholder input. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (HR 4773/S 2707), and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) has introduced the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act (HR 5813). These bills would make important changes to the new regulation including: (1) Requiring a new economic analysis on the impact of the overtime rule before moving forward with a new rulemaking; (2) Implementing the new salary threshold gradually instead of all at once; and (3) Eliminating the automatic three-year increase mechanism. More information on the new overtime rule can be found here
New Survey Looks at Energy and Water Performance of Sports Venues. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Green Sports Alliance and National Institute of Building Sciences launched a survey this week to get the input of sports venue owners and operators about their facilities' energy and water usage. The purpose is to identify opportunities to reduce energy and water use, save money and lead the way towards the possible development of a new ENERGY STAR score and certification for stadiums and arenas. The project team is expected to publish a report that highlights the key findings of the survey and provides strategies to support enhancing energy and water efficiency across professional and collegiate sports venues by early 2017.
Northeast Schools Reopen After Lead Scare. Schools are reopening in New Jersey's largest school district, but water fountains remain offline after last spring's lead scare. Officials say bottled water will be distributed for the next month at Newark's 30 schools. The district expects to reopen water fountains by October. In March, Newark revealed that half its aging school buildings contained lead-tainted water. Recent results from about 300 drinking water outlets throughout the district showed the water was safe in the majority of drinking water outlets. In neighboring New York, schools will be required to test their drinking water for lead contamination under a new measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. School districts will report the results to parents as well as local and state officials. Buildings found to have high levels of lead will have to develop and implement plans to fix the problem. The mandate will make New York the first state in the nation to complete statewide inspections, according to Cuomo's office.
In March, Newark revealed that half its aging school buildings contained lead-tainted water.
Construction worker shortage weighs on hot U.S. housing market. Eight years after the housing bust drove an estimated 30 percent of construction workers into new fields, homebuilders across the country are struggling to find workers at all levels of experience, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. The association estimates that there are approximately 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S. - a jump of 81 percent in the last two years. The ratio of construction job openings to hiring, as measured by the Department of Labor, is at its highest level since 2007. Private companies say that they are having a hard time attracting workers, and they are often forced to give employees on-the-spot raises to prevent them from going to competitors. Carpenters and electricians are often listed as the most in-demand specialties. Colorado alone will need 30,000 more workers in the construction field in the next six years, a number that does not account for those who will retire, according to a study by the Association of General Contractors. The state passed a bill last year pledging $10 million over three years to fund free training for plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Labor Department data shows that demand for plumbers alone is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. That’s almost twice the rate of projected overall 7 percent job growth in the same period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Reducing Effectiveness of Home Septic Systems. A team of researchers from the University of Rhode Island is recommending that state and federal officials rethink the regulations for the installation and management of home septic systems, especially in the coastal zone, in light of research they conducted that demonstrated that warming temperatures and rising sea levels will reduce the effectiveness of conventional septic systems. The study found that a one-foot increase in the height of the water table due to sea level rise and a 5 degree centigrade increase in air temperature would reduce a septic system's ability to filter out phosphorous and nitrogen before it reaches the ground water and nominally affect bacteria and carbon removal. The researchers say the issue is of national concern. About one quarter of U.S. households use septic systems to treat their wastewater, and in some areas where municipal sewers are unavailable, septic systems are the only option. In Rhode Island, one-third of households have on-site septic systems.
Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti's biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage.
UN Admits Its Wastewater Brought Cholera To Haiti. The United Nations is saying for the first time that it was involved in the introduction of cholera to Haiti and needs to do "much more" to end the suffering of those affected, estimated at more than 800,000 people (7% of Haiti’s population). Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti's biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a U.N. peacekeeping base. The United Nations has never accepted responsibility, and has answered lawsuits on behalf of victims in U.S. courts by claiming diplomatic immunity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is working on a package that would provide "material assistance" to cholera victims in Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and only 24 percent of Haitians have access to a toilet. Sewage is rarely treated and safe water remains inaccessible to many.
California Extends Most Ambitious US Climate Change Law. Gov. Jerry Brown extended the nation's most ambitious climate change law Thursday by another 10 years as California charts a new goal to reduce carbon pollution. It expands on California's landmark 2006 law, which set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As the state is set to meet or exceed that target,the new law goes further by aiming to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, which the governor called the most aggressive target enacted by any government in North America. Brown, who has traveled the world promoting greenhouse-gas reduction efforts, issued an executive order last year setting those goals. Supporters overcame strong opposition from oil companies and other industry interests to pass the bill a year after business-friendly Democrats in the Assembly derailed an even more ambitious proposal to limit the use of oil in the state. Republicans say California's efforts have raised consumer costs without noticeably affecting global emissions.