White House delays Keystone XL
The Obama administration announced another delay in the decision over whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The administration made the surprise announcement right before the Easter weekend, saying the decision would be delayed until a Nebraska court case about the location of the proposed pipeline was completed. This announcement all but guarantees the politically charged issue will be on hold until after the November mid-terms.
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from Western Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The project requires State Department approval because it crosses an international border.
The project has been a political lightning rod – environmental activists oppose its construction, while advocates for the project point to the potential for job creation. The issue has been a particularly thorny one for red state Democrats. Indeed, the administration’s decision was quickly criticized by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is one of the most endangered Democratic Senators up in November.
FDA issues e-cigarette regulations
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules that will cover electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as e-cigarettes.
These new regulations will impact not only e-cigarettes, but cover pipe tobacco and cigars, products that have, up until now, been largely unregulated by the FDA. The new regulations would ban the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco to Americans under 18, and would require that people buying them show photo identification to prove their age, measures already mandated in a number of states.
Interestingly enough, the tobacco companies haven’t opposed all new regulations. Indeed, as tobacco companies jockey to expand their e-cigarette business, they're using an updated lobbying playbook that drops opposition to regulations and embraces the prohibition of sales to minors, industry lobbyists say.
While it might sound counterintuitive for a company to embrace regulations, it may help the bottom line by protecting existing markets.
"Essentially this is a big victory for the big tobacco companies," said Boston University School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel, speaking of tobacco regulation. "They can claim correctly that they comply with FDA standards. And it also detracts Congress from passing real regulation that would deal with tobacco."
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, Congress Returns from Recess.
No breakthrough in Japan trade talks
During President Obama’s visit to Japan, there was some hope that a two-way trade deal between the U.S. and Japan could have been reached – an agreement that could help spur agreement on a broader Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Unfortunately, for proponents of expanding trade, no such deal was reached.
While trade talks between the U.S. and Japan will continue at the ministerial level, the talks have stalled over Japan’s reluctance to open up farm sectors like beef.
In a press conference this week, President Obama sounded encouraged despite the lack of an agreement, saying that the U.S. and Japan were actually close on issues such as automobiles and agriculture.
Administration once again issuing green energy loan guarantees
The Obama Administration’s Energy Department is getting closer to issuing loan guarantees for green energy projects for the first time since 2011. The Department of Energy recently issued a call for applications for up to $4 billion in new loans.
The last round of renewable energy project loans in 2009-2011 included big solar and wind power-generating projects (not to mention a half-billion for the infamous Solyndra).
That failure, alongside a few other high-profile bankruptcies, made the program a Republican punching bag for years, but overall, the program yielded a high rate of success.
As of September, of the $34 billion loan portfolio for low-carbon energy and green automobiles, only about 2 percent had been lost; the other 98 percent had either been repaid or was on track toward repayment, according to the department.
The department is focusing on projects that integrate renewable power into the grid and help store it; next-wave biofuels; projects to "enhance" various existing facilities (think, for instance, adding power production to a dam that doesn't do it); waste-to-energy projects; and energy-efficiency proposals.
With the clock winding down on the Obama administration, Energy Department officials have been moving more aggressively to use their remaining lending authority in the financing program, which was born in a bipartisan set of energy bills in 2005 and 2007 but has fallen out of favor with Republicans.
Transportation in focus
New rail regulations in Canada will impact U.S.
Thousands of older model tanker cars operating in Canada, which are used to haul oil and other dangerous liquids, will have to be retrofitted or phased out in the next three years.
New regulations will also create an emergency response task force that includes local authorities, railways and shippers and lower allowable “speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices.”
Given the nature of rail transport, the changes made by the Canadian regulators will also affect oil, ethanol and hazardous chemical shippers in the U.S.
It will also spread heavy costs for new tank cars or extensive refits to car leasing firms as well as oil firms and other shippers that either own those cars or pay for their use. And Canada’s action can increase pressure on U.S. agencies to toughen their own response to a series of fuel train accidents.
Key dates loom
MAP-21 expires and Department of Transportation funding runs out in 160 days. The deadline for a new Federal Aviation Administration bill is a little longer – it is up in 525 days.
Charts and graphs
Unresolved issues under Dodd-Frank:
|The newly-created consumer-focused agency is attempting to promulgate regulations, but opponents have claimed the agency is exceeding its legal mandate.||Republicans remain largely reconciled to the CFPB; should the GOP take the Senate in 2014, the agency could face serious legislative challenges|
|The so-called Collins Amendment imposes minimum capital standards on non-bank financial firms (e.g.: certain insurers); firms affected strongly oppose||Both the House and Senate continue to debate potential changes to the requirements|
Government Sponsored Entities
|Dodd-Frank required Treasury to issue a report on options for the futures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hoping to spark future Congressional debate.||The Treasury issued its study in 2011, and several GSE reform bills have been proposed in the 113th Congress, but passage is unlikely this session.|
Minerals Rights Disclosure
|An obscure provision of Dodd-Frank requires mining and oil companies to disclose payments to foreign countries for mineral rights.||Firms are currently challenging the SEC's attempts to write a regulation; litigation may be likely|
|In response to the 2008 financial crisis, Dodd-Frank includes a provision, proposed by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, to prohibit banks from making speculative investment in securities||Federal regulators have promulgated a final version of the rule, but financial institutions remain uncertain how regulators will allow firms to prove compliance|
National: The National Republican Congressional Committee announced it raised $9.9 million in the first quarter and has $31.1 million cash hand. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it raised $10.3 million in the same period and has $40.2 million cash on hand.
Georgia: Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce in his bid to win the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
Delaware: Attorney General Beau Biden (D-DE), son of Vice President Joe Biden, announced that he'll run for governor in 2016 when the state's current Gov. Jack Markell (D-DE) is termed out.
A look ahead
Tuesday, April 29 – The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission's rulemaking agenda at 10:00 a.m. in 2128 Rayburn.
Tuesday, April 29 – The House Natural Resource Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing on American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Skilled Trades Workers at 10:00 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.
Thursday, April 24 – The House Veterans' Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a field hearing on Access to Mental Health Care and Traumatic Brain-Injury Services: Addressing the Challenges and Barriers for Veterans at 3:00 p.m. at 3601 South Sixth Ave. in Tucson, Arizona.
Friday, April 25 – The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee will hold a discussion on Revising the Electronic Communications Privacy Act: Should Congress Require a Warrant? at noon in 2228 Rayburn.
Tuesday, April 29 – The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on Driving Innovation Through Federal Investments at 2:30 p.m. in G-50 Dirksen.
Washington by the numbers
25 – Number of grandchildren William Henry Harrison had when elected president.
1.2 million – Number of votes Gary Johnson received in the 2012 presidential election; Johnson hopes to run again in 2016.
They said what?
“I’m going to be around for the 2016 election. And if not, I’m going to vote absentee.” -- Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. (Washington Post)
"Yesterday, North Korea held its annual marathon. Congratulations to first, second and third place winner, Kim Jong Un." –Conan O'Brien
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