Here is an edited version of his update from November 6, 2015:
This week: The House passed a long-term highway bill (see below) and a defense authorization bill. The Senate passed legislation to block an Environmental Protection Agency regulation to expand the Clean Water Act to smaller waterways (see below).
Senate Moves To Block New Water Rule. Republican senators successfully moved forward this week with their efforts to block the Obama administration’s water jurisdiction rule. With the help of three moderate Democrats, almost all Republicans voted to pass a procedural motion for a resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) waters of the United States rule. The bill would force the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rewrite waterways regulations by Dec. 31, 2016 under specified guidelines. “My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the resolution’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor. “We will send this to the president, where he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked federal agency.”
“The resolution’s future is not very hopeful. While it is widely expected to be taken up and advanced by the House, it will require President Obama’s signature which will be nearly impossible as the White House threatened to veto the resolution this week,” said Hansen.
Highway to the President’s Desk. Yesterday, a long-term highway bill to authorize highway, rail and transit improvements passed the House and now will be reconciled with a similar Senate bill passed earlier this year. We expect a final bill to be hammered out soon and sent to the President later this month, perhaps by Thanksgiving. This is a big win for new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as he completed his first week in his new role. He insisted on an “open process,” where other members could offer amendments to the bill, and nearly 300 amendments were offered. The final bill has received some criticism as it authorizes six years of transportation construction projects, yet only funds three years of projects. “Regardless, a long-term highway bill hasn’t been enacted in a decade and many view this as a solid bipartisan victory and a personal win for Speaker Ryan,” said Hansen.
Cybersecurity. Last week, amid the budget battle, the Senate quietly approved a bill to enhance cybersecurity protections. The House passed a comparable cybersecurity bill last year, but there are key differences between the two bills that now must be reconciled. This reconciliation process is likely to be resolved early next year. In general, both bills will make it easier for private companies to voluntarily share information about cyberattacks they are subject to with each other and with the federal government while also giving the private sector liability protection from that information exchange. The goal of the bill is to increase the flow of information to government agencies that may help better combat hacking and computer system breaches. One issue to be resolved is the nature and scope of the information potentially shared with federal agencies and whether the agencies can adequately protect that information. “The vast majority in Congress from both parties wants to enact new cybersecurity protections in some way, which is why a final bill will likely emerge, but the path will not be easy as many technology companies are seeking stronger privacy protections in a final bill,” said Hansen.
Keystone Pipeline Woes. A sad comedy on the Keystone Pipeline saga ensued this week when TransCanada, the pipeline’s Canadian owner, asked the State Department to suspend a final decision on the project while it worked with the State of Nebraska to address various pipeline route issues. The White House, not the State Department, responded with skepticism and the request was denied. The State Department has since indicated it will make a decision “soon.” The application to build the pipeline has been pending at the State Department since late 2008 when George W. Bush was about to exit office. The motives of both TransCanada and the White House this week were clearly political, and the pipeline application will very likely be denied soon. “It has long been believed the rejection would come right before President Obama goes to Paris for the U.N. Climate Change Conference at the end of this month as a way of burnishing his climate change credentials, but this latest fiasco may result in a more immediate rejection,” said Hansen.
California Imposes First Fines to Suppliers Failing to Cut Back on Water Amid Drought. This month state officials for the first time are fining California water suppliers for failing to meet a mandated 25 percent reduction in water use in the state’s battle against a widespread drought. The $61,000 fines are being imposed on Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District. For a fourth straight month, Californians as a whole have cut back water consumption by more than 25 percent since Gov. Jerry Brown put that mandate into effect last June. Three hundred and eighty nine suppliers reported water use in September. The figures showed that the four communities missed mandated targets by between roughly 9% and 12%.
Washington Firehouse Cuts Energy Use by Almost 80%. A fire station in Washington cut its energy use by almost 80 percent. The lead mechanical engineer pointed to the special conditions that make cutting energy use at a fire station especially challenging: They operate 24/7, are essentially open, use energy to provide home-like services to the firefighters and contain equipment that must be kept at the ready, which is another energy expenditure. A typical station uses about 100 kBtu per square foot per year in energy. However, builders were able to drive that number to 22 kBtu at the Issaquah Fire Station 72 Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah, WA. “Steps taken included increased insulation, triple-glazed windows, heat recovery ventilation and radiant slabs,” said Hansen.
Modern technology creates smooth, water-efficient snow. As the weather begins to turn, many skiers are breaking out their gear. With resorts scheduled to open out West in just a couple of weeks, preparations are underway for another season. Utah’s Snowbird ski resort is touting its new water-efficient system to enhance its snow base. With it colder temperatures that make it possible for the resort to run its 22 snow guns from the top of the mountain to the bottom. With the new technology, they don’t refer to it as artificial snow anymore. They call it “gunpowder.” With better efficiency, Snowbird expects to use approximately 20% less water while creating big mounds of snow. “But as good as the technology has become, when you’re in the ski business, you’re always beholden to the next big storm,” said Hansen.