IAPMO’s view from the Hill, and the industry

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Dain HansenDain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry.

Here is an edited version of his update from March 18, 2016:

Congressional Update.


Senators Still Stuck on Flint Funding Fix. The Senate energy bill continues to face challenges with holds on the bill from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). The situation became even more complicated this week as the Congressional Budget Office finished its review of an agreement over how to pay for federal aid for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., and “the numbers don’t add up,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told reporters this week. “At this point we are trying to see if we can work it out with Sen. Lee and if not we’ll have to find another path,” Stabenow said, referring to Sen. Mike Lee’s hold on a legislative package that would bring the Flint funding and a broad energy bill to the floor over concerns about the deal’s funding mechanism. “We are trying to work through it.” Stabenow declined to elaborate any further in her comments. Lee’s office has declined to comment as well. Still, industry and others on Capitol Hill are still hopeful. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he isn’t giving up hope a deal can be reached.

Administration Update.

DOE Rule Would Increase Commercial Boiler Energy Efficiency. An Energy Department proposed rule would increase the energy efficiency for commercial packaged boilers used to heat businesses, but energy efficiency advocates say the proposed standards aren’t strong enough.  Currently, boilers heat 25 percent of commercial buildings, with furnaces heating about 50 percent of commercial buildings.  These commercial boilers use hot water or steam to heat buildings that have a central heating and cooling system. The minimum energy efficiency standards for commercial boilers, which are either powered by gas or oil, would increase from a range of 77 percent to 84 percent efficiency to a range of 81 percent to 88 percent, according to the proposed rule. Energy efficiency proponents are already strongly encouraging DOE to adopt higher levels of efficiency than what is contained in the proposed rule. Industry representatives argue that while the proposed rule require efficiency levels that current products on the market already meet – the issue comes down to venting. Higher efficiency boilers create more condensation that would require a different type of venting system to safely manage the heat flow, which would cost more for businesses to install. The proposed standards would lead to approximately 0.4 quadrillion Btu (quads) of energy savings over a 30-year period of 2019-2048, the equivalent of the amount of energy to heat homes in New England with natural gas for two years. This would lead to net savings of $400 million to $1.7 billion for consumers, the DOE estimates.

Supreme Court Vacancy. President Obama nominated D.C. appeals court Chief Judge Merrick Garland to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans reiterated their position that a nomination will not be a subject of hearings or a vote before the November election and possibly at all this year. Although the nomination will not advance now, the vacancy will be subject to significant media coverage and opinions throughout the election season. Republicans view the stalemate as a way of ultimately maintaining the court’s conservative majority, while Democrats see it as a way to paint Republicans as the primary obstructionists in Washington. Republicans will be under increasing pressure to consider the nomination, but they will not relent. Senate Republicans could vote on the Garland nomination in the lame duck session in November or December but only if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election. The focus under that scenario would then be on the president-elect: would she acquiesce to Obama’s nominee or pick a new nominee in 2017? If Democrats also win a majority in the Senate (a likely outcome if she won), many are betting she would opt for the latter approach.

Opening Cuba Up. On the eve of his trip to Cuba this week, President Obama announced plans this week to further loosen some economic and travel restrictions to the island. The President has gradually liberalized the U.S.-Cuba trade and economic relationship since the two countries agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations, but the relationship will never be truly impactful until the U.S. lifts the 56-year old U.S. embargo on Cuba. That embargo has basically shut the two countries off to each other economically. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to lift the embargo, but it has gotten little traction. While the number of staunch opponents to expanded engagement with Cuba is lower now than in previous years, strong and bipartisan opposition still exists from Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX)—all Cuban-Americans. Many sectors, including travel and hospitality, are following this issue closely with the hope that they can find new business opportunities. While the Obama Administration can make small steps toward opening the door with Cuba, a much larger piece of the puzzle—lifting the trade embargo—will not be enacted this year.

Industry Update.

Water Utilities Are Pledging To Remove Lead Lines In Spite Of Costs. Drinking water utilities are backing changes to EPA’s lead and copper drinking water rule recommended by agency advisors and are pledging to work with customers to remove all lead service lines (LSLs), even as they acknowledge there needs to be “a serious discussion” about how utilities and customers will pay the estimated $30 billion cost of replacement. The board of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) voted unanimously to accept EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s (NDWAC) final recommendations for the agency to revise its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), highlighting the recommendations relating to LSL replacement, increased monitoring and outreach to customers. The board vote came just days before AWWA released the results on a new survey analysis that estimates 6.1 million lead service lines remain in the United States, serving approximately 7 percent of homes — a decrease of the estimated 10.2 million LSLs counted in 1991 when the LCR first went into effect. It is estimated that there are about 15 to 22 million American nationally served by lead lines.  In most cases, lead service lines are owned partially by the water utility and partially by property owners.

Expanding Use of Recycled Water Would Benefit The Environment and Human Health. A new study by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health published this week found that recycled water has great potential for more efficient use in urban settings and to improve the overall resiliency of the water supply. More than 1 in 9 people around the world, about 750 million, do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, and the problem is expected to worsen in step with rising greenhouse gas concentrations, population increases and climate change. In the new report, the UCLA researchers compare California’s current water conservation efforts with two other options: banning landscape irrigation and expanding the use of alternative water sources, such as recycled water. The authors found that increasing the use of recycled water would have the greatest potential to reduce water and energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The study also identified several potential public health benefits of using more recycled water, including improving municipalities’ ability to maintain green spaces and decreasing air pollution, which in turn would reduce the occurrence of respiratory disease.

Happy Fix-A-Leak Week! Each year, more than one trillion gallons of water are wasted by easy-to-fix household leaks, according to the EPA’s WaterSense program. That is why EPA is encouraged consumers this week to “Be a Leak Detective” during its eighth annual Fix a Leak Week. “Leaks don’t just rob your home of precious water, they could be adding 10 percent to your utility bill,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “By taking just 10 minutes to detect leaks at home, the average family could save more than 10,000 gallons of water per year.” Communities across the country celebrated it their own unique way. As part of the annual 5K St. Patrick’s Day parade, the City of Santa Rosa posted water-saving tips on the race course and encouraged runners to chase a “Running Toilet.” In Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Water Authority hosted daily giveaways (flappers, shower heads, and aerators). The City of Phoenix encouraged people to take pictures or film videos of leak detection in action with prizes going to the pictures with the most likes/comments/shares during the month of March.

All of Dain Hansen’s full updates can be seen in their entirety in the RPA newsletter. Become a proud member of the RPA and reap the many benefits it provides for the radiant and hydronics industry. For more information, please visit http://www.radiantprofessionalsalliance.org/Pages/Join.aspx

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