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Obama "goes it alone" on energy and the environment

Just days after using the release of the National Climate Assessment to push his message on climate change, President Obama will continue his use of executive power to push solutions to curb its effects.

Today, the president will announce a series of energy efficiency moves in a speech at Walmart in Mountain View, CA, including an additional $2 billion goal in energy efficiency upgrades for federal buildings over the next three years. Obama will announce a series of commitments to expand the use and availability of solar power, including rules on renewable energy installations for real property and solar industry workforce training.

The announcement comes just days after the administration released the National Climate Assessment and is part of the administration's "year of action" on climate change. It's also a continuation of Obama's strategy of using executive authority to move his climate and energy agenda in the face of obstruction from Congress.

The announcement comes as the Senate is facing the failure of its own bipartisan bill to increase the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings and federal facilities. The Shaheen-Portman efficiency bill had broad support, but it has all but collapsed as Republicans push for amendments that would target Environmental Protection Agency action on power plants, air pollution and other issues.

The announcement—being made at Walmart because of the company's adoption of renewable energy—marks a pivot from this week's emphasis on climate science to one that will focus on clean energy and jobs. Obama will announce plans to expand the Energy Department's Solar Instructor Training Network to support training programs at community colleges to help 50,000 workers break into the solar industry by 2020.

Obama will also detail commitments from more than 300 organizations to deploy more solar power.

When taken with other efficiency-related executive actions, the White House said the new initiatives would cut more than 380 million metric tons of carbon emissions and save businesses $26 billion on energy bills.

The federal building target—which builds on a 2011 announcement of a $2 billion savings goal—will also come at no net cost to taxpayers because it uses future energy savings to pay for the up-front costs, the White House says.

The announcement will also include new Energy Department efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers and electric motors; incentives for renewable power on public housing; and affirmation of commercial-building energy codes that will provide an additional 8.5 percent energy savings over previous standards. 

Effort to clarify Dodd-Frank stalls

An effort to clarify a provision in Dodd-Frank enjoys widespread support in both parties and both chambers, yet the prospects for success are uncertain.

At issue is the Fed’s interpretation of how capital requirements are applied to insurers. From the Fed’s point of view, while Yellen has acknowledged the difference between the banking and insurance businesses, the central bank does not have the legal authority to regulate insurers differently than banks under the Dodd-Frank provision.

In response, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) have introduced a bill that would exempt insurers from regulation under the provision if their business is regulated as insurance at the state level.

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), who chairs the Banking Committee, called the Collins-Brown-Johanns bill a “top priority,” but wouldn’t commit to when the panel would report it out. He shares the view that banking standards should not apply to insurance companies, but is still reviewing the legislation, a committee aide said.

So, with all the apparent support in the Senate, what is the holdup?

For one, the Banking Committee’s legislative runway is jammed at the moment. The committee is in the throes of reporting out a bill that would dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then, there’s reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expires at the end of the year. This law set up a compensation system for public and private losses due to terrorism. It’s also a priority for Johnson, and could be a lightning rod as well, aides said.

This leaves insurance lobbyists, and the bill’s authors, charting a path for passage. Collins wants to see the bill move as a stand-alone measure.

Brown did not offer specifics on how and if the legislation would get done, but said the clock is ticking. Indeed, insurance lobbyists say the Fed would hold off on its rule until January 2015. 
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, Transportation, Approps and Election Update.

Economy adds more jobs than expected

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy had added 288,000 nonfarm jobs last month. The gain was the largest monthly gain since January 2012 and far exceeded experts' expectations of a 210,000 rise.

The jobs increase pushed the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent, the lowest in 5 1/2 years. However, not all the information was upbeat. While the economy added close to 300,000 jobs, the precipitous drop in the unemployment rate was also a result of a sharp increase in the number of people who dropped out of the labor force.

More than 800,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force last month, which pushed the labor force participation rate to 62.8 percent. This is the lowest labor force participation rate in 36 years.

Housing reform delayed

Next week, the Senate Banking Committee will vote on a bipartisan housing reform bill that would replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), the Committee Chair, and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), the ranking member, have been working to build support for their bipartisan legislation. Indeed, they have delayed scheduling a vote on the effort in order to do just that.

It appears that there are six Democrats and six Republicans on the 22-member committee who are prepared to vote for the Johnson-Crapo legislation. Even if the bill clears the Banking committee, its future on the Senate floor still remains uncertain.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not committed to bringing the legislation to the floor.

Transportation in focus

THUD markup

House appropriators began their markup of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill this week. The transportation part of the THUD bill includes $17.1 billion in discretionary spending for DOT, $727.3 million below the current year and $5.8 billion less than the administration's proposal. It includes $40.25 billion for highways, $15.7 billion for aviation programs, $10.5 billion for transit projects, $1.4 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, $824 million for safety programs and $305 million for the Maritime Administration. The measure would also significantly trim and limit the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program that many Republicans oppose, cutting it from $500 million to $100 million next year and banning bike and pedestrian projects.

The bill should also reignite the truck weight debate that always seems to be smoldering on Capitol Hill thanks to language on weight limits for Interstate roads in three states. The THUD draft would let Wisconsin and Mississippi keep a higher limit on a road if it gets converted to an Interstate in the future, and would let Idaho allow longer trucks if they meet certain rules, such as a 129,000 pound maximum weight.


Political bits


North Carolina 2nd Congressional District: Incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) defeated talk radio show host Frank Roche (R-NC) 59 to 41 percent. The Democratic primary between pop singer Clay Aiken (D-NC) and former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco (D-NC) remains too close to call.

North Carolina 3rd Congressional District: Incumbent Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) defeated former Bush aide Taylor Griffin (R-NC) 51 to 45 percent.

North Carolina 6th Congressional District: Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger, Jr. (R-NC) and pastor Mark Walker (R-NC) are headed to a July 15 runoff, as no GOP candidate recieved more than 40 percent of the vote Tuesday.

North Carolina 7th Congressional District: Former state Sen. David Rouzer (R-NC) defeated New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White (R-NC) in the GOP primary, 53-40 percent.

Ohio 14th Congressional District: Freshman incumbent Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) defeated State Rep. Matt Lynch (R-OH) 55 to 45 percent.


North Carolina: State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC) will take on Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) in November after pulling together enough support during Tuesday's Republican primary to avoid a runoff and win the nomination outright, the outcome many national Republicans hoped for. Tillis won with 45 percent compared to 27 percent for physician Greg Brannon (R- NC), and 18 percent for pastor Mark Harris (R-NC).


Maine: A new poll shows Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) narrowly leading Governor Paul LePage (R-ME) 37 to 36 percent with Eliot Cutler (I-ME) trailing with 18 percent.

Nebraska: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) endorsed Pete Ricketts (R-NE) who was the unsuccessful 2006 Senate nominee.

A look ahead


Tuesday, May 13 – The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hold a hearing on high-frequency and automated trading in future markets at 10:00 a.m. in 328-A Russell.

Tuesday, May 13 – The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Strengthening Minority-Serving Institutions: Best Practices and Innovations for Student Success at 10:00 a.m. in 430 Dirksen.

Washington by the numbers                        

$831,000 - The value of a college degree, according to a new report.

$15 million - Settlement Patton Boggs will pay Chevron in a settlement of a lawsuit over toxic-waste pits in Ecuador.

They said what?

"I'm not trying to spoon with them. I don't care. In fact, I try to avoid—I go out of my way to avoid meeting candidates and politicians." -- Super PAC founder John Jordan, on meeting political candidates (National Journal)

Washington humor

"Monica Lewinsky is breaking her silence about her affair with Bill Clinton for a new essay in Vanity Fair. In the essay, she actually says, 'it's time to burn the beret, bury the blue dress, and move on.' And Americans said, 'Yeah, we did 15 years ago. Where have you been.'" –Jimmy Fallon






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McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC
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