MCAA Government Affairs Update: The Latest Developments Impacting Our Industry

March 22, 2024

As part of its ongoing commitment to protecting your livelihood and setting the stage for a bright future, MCAA has secured the services of Longbow Public Policy Group to advise our MCAA Government Affairs Committee (GAC). GAC Chair, Jim Gaffney will be passing along information relative to our industry on a regular basis.

On Friday, March 22, 2024 MCAA Lobbying Firm, Longbow Public Policy Group provided the following information:

This week, Congress labored to pass the final six bill fiscal year (FY) 2024 minibus spending package to prevent a partial government shutdown at midnight tonight. Under this funding bill, the Labor Department would receive $13.7 billion in discretionary funding, which includes $10.4 billion for the Employment and Training Administration (a $28 million decrease compared to the FY 2023 enacted levels) and flat funding of $285 million for Registered Apprenticeships, $2.9 billion for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act State Grants, and $65 million for strengthening community college training grants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would also receive flat funding ($632 million) for the remainder of FY 2024, as would the Wage and Hour Division ($260 million), and the National Labor Relations Board ($299 million). 

In what has become a hallmark of the 118th Congress, the process for passing the funding bill has been a mess. Congressional leadership reached agreement on the minibus over the weekend and took until yesterday at around 3AM to release legislative text. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), due to the opposition of members of the House Freedom Caucus and other Republicans, was forced to bring the measure up under suspension of the rule, which requires two-thirds support to pass. The measure barely made it, with the House voting 286-134 to pass the bill after 112 Republicans opposed the measure—denying Speaker Johnson the support of a “majority of the majority” of the House GOP caucus. As of this writing, the Senate is working to get a time agreement on a vote on the spending bill in hopes of sending it to the White House before the weekend. 

While the House was able to pass the funding bill, conservative lawmakers are incensed that Speaker Johnson brought up a bill that did not receive the support of a majority of the GOP caucus. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) expressed her displeasure by filing a “motion to vacate” against Speaker Johnson. Motions to vacate are considered privileged and must be considered within 72 hours of being formally introduced on the floor. While Speaker Johnson’s team denied Greene the ability to offer the motion to vacate before gaveling out for the Easter recess, unless Greene reconsiders, it is likely that the House will have to vote on the motion to vacate within days after returning to session after the recess. Democrats are currently holding their cards close and have not said whether they will help to save Johnson’s speakership or thrust the House back into the chaos that reigned for the 22 days following the outer of Speaker McCarthy last October. The dysfunction, however, is expected to continue with Rep. Ken Buck’s (R-CO) resignation becoming effective today coupled with a surprise announcement this afternoon that Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said he is resigning from Congress on April 19th, which will reduce the House GOP majority to 217-213 with 5 vacancies. Additionally, House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) wrote Speaker Johnson that she is stepping down as Chair of the powerful committee and requested that as “soon as possible the GOP Steering Committee and Conference select a new Chair of the Appropriations Committee.”  Rep. Granger had already announced she is not seeking reelection in November, and she does not plan to resign her seat before the end of the Congress.  There were also many other developments this week related to MCAA’s priority issues that are recounted below.

Update from Saturday, March 23, 2024: Overnight in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, the Senate passed the six-bill minibus the House passed earlier on Friday. And this morning the President signed it. This now ensures there is no partial government shutdown when the workweek begins Monday and all federal agencies are now funded through September 30, 2024. And when Congress returns they will be busy with hearings on the Fiscal year 2025 spending bills. 

MCAA Issues and Interests

Registered Apprenticeship—MCAA and the UA File Joint Comments on DOL Proposed Rule

On Monday March 18th, the MCAA and the UA filed joint comments on the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration’s proposed rule entitled National Apprenticeship System Enhancements that published in December.  The joint comment letter resulted from consultation between MCAA’s government affairs team, MCAA affiliates concerned about aspects of the rule, the Joint Apprenticeship Training Fund, and the UA.  

The letter explains the best-in-class apprenticeship programs that the MCAA and UA sponsor.  It expresses support for portions of the rule that support the kind of successful apprenticeship programs we operate, ensure the quality of registered apprenticeship programs, and advance the safety and welfare of apprentices.  Most of the letter is devoted to urging the Labor Department to reconsider aspects of the proposal the MCAA and the UA view as detrimental to high-quality registered apprenticeship programs in our industry.  These include a provision authorizing exemptions from the minimum standards for registration of a program, creation of National Occupational Standards for our crafts, language that could be interpreted to override local standards that provide greater protection for programs and apprentices in them, the creation of a new Career Technical Education Apprenticeship system in our industry, and various changes the rule proposes to critical terms such as journeyworker and pre-apprenticeship programs. The comments also argue that DOL should clarify non-compete language in the proposal to ensure it does not interfere with lawful scholarship loan agreements. 

A copy of the joint MCAA-UA comment letter is available here.

Many other union contractor associations, as well as several labor unions, including North America’s Building Trades Unions filed comments expressing concerns about the rulemaking similar to those expressed in the MCAA-UA joint comment letter.

Comments on the proposed rule were due just days before the U.S. Senate confirmed former Florida State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez on Thursday, March 21st to lead the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), which oversees worker training and registered apprenticeship and will be responsible for reviewing and responding to comments on the proposed rule as it works to develop a final regulation. Rodriguez was confirmed by a vote of 50-48.

Independent Contractor Rule

Yesterday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted 21-13 along party lines to advance H.J. Res. 116, a Congressional Review Act resolution to nullify the Labor Department’s MCAA-supported independent contractor final rule. This final rule makes it harder for contractors to classify workers as independent contractors. The MCAA policy team has been lobbying with the Construction Employers of America against this resolution and sent letters of opposition to the House and Senate last week opposing H.J. Res. 116 and the Senate companion S. J. Res. 63. 

In those letters, the MCAA and CEA explain that rescinding the DOL independent contractor rule would encourage the misclassification of construction workers “by weakening the standards for when workers are employees versus independent contractors.” The letters also highlight the impact that misclassification and wage theft in the construction industry are having on the U.S. financial system, as evidenced by warnings like the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) August 15, 2023 notice directing U.S. financial institutions to take extra precautions to prevent the banking system from being used to facilitate a “concerning increase in state and federal payroll tax evasion and workers’ compensation insurance fraud in the U.S. residential and commercial real estate construction industries.” 

The House CRA must now be considered by the full House after the two-week Easter recess. If the House passes the CRA, it must still be considered in the Senate and signed into law by the President. 

Pensions

Ed and Workforce Subcommittee Holds Hearing with PBGC to Discuss SFA Overpayments

On Wednesday, March 20th, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Director Gordon Hartogensis appeared before the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions for an oversight hearing on the PBGC that focused on the Special Financial Assistance (SFA) program and the overpayment of $127 million to the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund for deceased participants. 

Despite an opening statement from Subcommittee Chair Bob Good (R-VA) and questions from full Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) that blasted the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Special Financial Assistance (SFA) program as a “$91 billion bailout to the failing multiemployer pension system” and the PBGC for its “ongoing mismanagement” of SFA funds, Director Hartogensis’ unequivocal statement that the $127 million overpayment to Central States will be recouped, as well as his explanation of steps taken to fix the issues that led to the overpayment, seemed to silence Republicans. 

Democrats used the hearing to highlight the success of both the ARPA and the SFA, which were passed without Republican support in the House. Democrats also detailed how the SFA prevented the collapse of the multiemployer pension system, as highlighted by the “Multiemployer Pension Rescue” interactive map on the House Education and the Workforce Democrats’ website here

EBSA Statement of Enforcement Policy Requiring Repayment of Excess SFA Payments

On a related note, the Friday before the hearing, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued a “Statement of Enforcement Policy (SEP) Regarding Return of Excess Special Financial Assistance Payments.” The SEP makes clear that Central States needs to return $127 million in extra Special Financial Assistance (SFA) Program funds it received for dead participants and that the trustees of the plan will not face liability under ERISA for doing so. Notably, the EBSA statement is written to apply broadly beyond Central States to any multiemployer plan that received “SFA payments…in amounts that exceeded what they should have received because of inaccuracies in plan census data that was used to prepare benefit projections needed to determine the amount of SFA to be paid to the plans as part of the SFA application process.” 

The SEP goes on to say that the “[DOL] recognizes that plans do not have access to the Social Security Administration’s Full Death Master File, which the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is in a unique position to use to cross-check participant data.” Any multiemployer plan that received an SFA payment before the PBGC changed its process for identifying dead participants needs to be aware of this new enforcement policy. Importantly, the new Statement of Enforcement Policy also makes clear that repayment of SFA funds is not precluded by and does not violate “the requirement of ERISA Section 403(c)(1), which provides that plan assets must be held for ‘the exclusive purposes of providing benefits to participants….and defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan,’ or the duties of prudence and loyalty as set forth in ERISA Sections 404(a)(1)(A) and (B).” DOL adds that it “has confirmed its understanding with the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service” and that it “does not intend to take any enforcement action against a plan that repays excess SFA amounts based on inaccurate census information that is subsequently corrected through the PBGC’s use of the Death Master File.”

DOL included the caveat that its statement of enforcement policy “should not be read as suggesting that the plans failed to exercise proper care in connection with the applications for SFA, but rather that some of the applications were premised on inaccuracies in Census data that the PBGC is in a unique position to detect and for which the United States government has a bona fide restitution claim.” It goes on to say that “the PBGC will work with the plans to recalculate the[ir] SFA entitlement and the amount of the excess payments” and “that this process has already begun.”

Government Funding Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Proposal

Biden Releases FY2025 Budget Proposal 

The ongoing congressional deliberations on the Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations bills did not deter the President from released on March 11th his $7.3 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget request to Congress that represents a 1% increase over last year’s budget and proposes $3.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years primarily by increasing taxes on corporations and wealthy households. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published a series of fact sheets on aspects of the FY25 budget, including cutting “wasteful spending” by eliminating tax subsidies for “special interests,” that pointedly includes the “oil and gas industry.” The Administration also proposes “crack[ing] down on wealthy and big corporate tax cheats,” preventing “wealthy investment fund managers from avoiding tax on their earnings,” and “expand[ing] penalties when employers violate workers’ rights to organize, receive fair wages, or have a safe and healthy workplace free from discrimination.”  Along with the release of the budget, the Treasury Department published the FY25 “Green Book” that outlines the Biden Administration’s revenue proposals for the next fiscal year, including plans to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, increase the top individual tax rate to 39.6% for income over $400,000 for single filers and $450,000 for joint filers, and increase from 1% to 4% the tax on corporate stock buybacks. 

With regard to agency funding, the FY25 budget requests $13.9 billion for the Labor Department, a $318 million increase over current levels, including $335 million for registered apprenticeships (a $50 million increase) and increases for enforcement agencies. For the Energy Department, the budget requests $51 billion, an increase of $800 million over enacted levels, including $10.6 billion for clean energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment programs. The President’s budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency seeks $10.8 billion, a 20% boost over enacted levels, including $2.4 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and $101 million for two EPA programs dedicated to remediating lead contamination in drinking water by replacing lead pipe service lines. Finally, for the Education Department, the President’s budget proposes to expand free community college across the U.S. through a federal-state partnership; and (2) seeks $12 billion for a new “Reducing the Costs of College Fund,” which would create a new $7.2 billion program to provide states with matching funds to offer at least 12 free postsecondary credits to students in certain career-connected programs.

MCAA Union Partner the United Association Under Scrutiny by House Republicans

Last Friday, March 15th, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sent letters to 12 unions specifying examples of recent corruption in their unions and requesting information about the unions’ efforts to protect members from fraud, corruption, and improper accounting. The letters conclude by asking for: (1) a comprehensive description of the policies and procedures the union has in place to monitor and deter fraud, corruption, and improper accounting, including any third-party audits; (2) a comprehensive description of the education the union provides its staff to ensure that proper accounting standards are observed for the oversight of funds, assets, and property for the national organization and for the local unions; (3) an explanation of whether the union has an internal reporting mechanism, such as a hotline, for its members, staff, and whistleblowers to report any examples of fraud, corruption, or improper accounting; and (4) a comprehensive description of any internal disciplinary policies the union has in place to punish instances of fraud, corruption, and improper accounting

The 12 unions that received letters were the United Association, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the United Mine Workers of America.

Inflation Reduction Act Implementation—IRS Guidance for Energy Communities and the Bonus Credit Program

Today, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2024-23 that expands the Nameplate Capacity Rule for determining what an energy community is for the Inflation Reduction Act’s production and investment tax credits. Under the Nameplate Capacity Rule, a project that has nameplate capacity is considered located in or placed in service within an energy community if 50 percent or more of the project’s nameplate capacity is in an area that qualifies as an energy community. Per the notice, there are three categories of energy communities: (1) Brownfield sites; (2) certain metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and non-metropolitan statistical areas (non-MSAs) based on unemployment rates; and (3) Census tracts where a coal mine closed after 1999 or where a coal-fired electric generating unit was retired after 2009 (and directly adjoining Census tracts.) The increased credit amount or rate available for meeting the requirements of the energy community provisions is generally 10 percent for the production tax credit and 2 percent for the investment tax credit. If prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements are met, the investment tax credit would be 10%. This notice expands the Nameplate Capacity Rule to include additional attribution property and adds two 2017 North American Industry Classification System industry codes—Natural Gas Distribution and Oil and Gas Pipeline and Related Structures Construction—for purposes of determining the Fossil Fuel Employment Rate. The IRS also released Appendix 1, identifying additional MSAs and non-MSAs that meet the Fossil Fuel Employment threshold, and Appendix 2, identifying additional MSAs and non-MSAs that qualify as energy communities in 2023 by meeting the Fossil Fuel Employment threshold and the unemployment rate requirement for calendar year 2022.

CHIPS and Scient Act Implementation—$8.5 Billion for Four New Microchip Manufacturing Projects 

On Wednesday, March 20th, the Commerce Department announced that it reached terms to grant Intel up to $8.5 billion from the CHIPS and Science Act to build four new chip plants in Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon. The terms include prevailing wage and apprenticeship utilization requirements. The federal funding is motivating Intel to invest approximately $100 billion in U.S. projects over the next five years. The Commerce Department says these projects are expected to create over 30,000 good-paying jobs and Intel’s investments will put the U.S. on track to produce 20% of the world’s leading-edge chips by the end of the decade. The announcement comes amid reports that surging costs for building materials and labor, as well as a shortage of construction workers, are postponing construction of chip manufacturing facilities for Intel and Taiwan Superconductor that are already underway in Arizona. Chip material executives have said that the cost of building a plant in Arizona has ballooned to four or five times what it would be in Asia and is “several times” higher than they previously expected to spend.

Decarbonization – Eighth Circuit Selected to Hear Lawsuits Against SEC’s Climate Disclosure Rule

Yesterday, the Eight Circuit Court of appeals was chosen randomly through a lottery to be the court where all the lawsuits against the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Clime Disclosure Rule will be consolidated and heard. Generally, this SEC Rule will compel public companies to detail in securities filings information about their greenhouse gas emissions. The Eight Circuit is viewed as a venue favored by the plaintiffs that filed suit to enjoin the rule because it is where nine GOP-led states, including Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota filed their challenge. The SEC rule was enjoined by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week before the lottery to determine where the 9 cases filed on it around the country would be consolidated.

Right to Repair

On March 14th, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division submitted a joint comment to the U.S. Copyright Office advocating for regulations that would facilitate consumers’ and businesses’ right to repair products they purchase as the Copyright Office considers whether to recommend that the Librarian of Congress renew and expand temporary exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) prohibition against the circumvention of technology protection measures that control access to copyrighted content. In their joint comments, the FTC and DOJ argue that renewing and expanding repair-related exemptions would promote competition in markets for replacement parts, repair, and maintenance services, as well as facilitate competition in markets for repairable products. The FTC and DOJ highlight that repair exemptions remove barriers that limit the ability of independent service providers to provide repair services. In their comment letter, the FTC and DOJ characterize manufacturers’ technology protection measures as not only protecting copyrighted works from theft and infringing uses, but also preventing non-infringing third-party repair.  

In the FTC’s press release announcing the joint comment letter, the Commission details how it hasbeen active in opposing repair restrictions for decades going back to its early support for the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which bars manufacturers from voiding warranties if consumers use third-party replacement parts or independent repair shops. The press release also highlights the FTC’s 2019 Nixing the Fix workshop focused on repair restrictions, its 2021 report based on input provided at the 2019 workshop and the Commission’s related policy statement pledging to vigorously enforce the law to combat repair restrictions that violate antitrust and consumer protection laws. The FTC also notes the settlements it secured in 2022 making it easier and cheaper to repair grills, motorcycles, and outdoor power equipment. The Commission also stresses that it has voiced support for state efforts to ensure consumers can repair their own products, including testifying last year before the state legislature in California and last month in Colorado’s General Assembly on state Right to Repair legislation. 

In DOJ’s press release announcing the joint comment letter, it notes that it has actively opposed repair restrictions that limit the ability of consumers and businesses to repair their own products, citing its recently filed statement of interest in re: Deere & Co. Repair Services Litigation, 3:22-cv-50188 (N.D. Ill., 2023). In this case, DOJ’s Antitrust Division argued that “federal antitrust laws have long protected competition in aftermarkets,” such as markets for replacement parts and repair services by independent dealers. DOJ also explains that the Antitrust Division has been bringing cases to protect competition in markets for repair services or component parts and provided technical assistance to Congress on proposed legislation that would promote the Right to Repair.

Other Interesting Things Since Our Last Report 

Friday, March 22nd

  • House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) will step down early as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, saying in a letter that she has accomplished “more than [she] ever could have imagined” as both Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee. Granger said that she would remain chairwoman until the Republican Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments for the conference, selects a new chair. 

Thursday, March 21st

  • The White House took aim at local zoning restrictions that “limit housing density” and increase “input costs associated with construction” in the President’s annual Economic Report.  The White House says that restrictive zoning rules that limit housing density are driving up housing costs. Page 152 of the report asserts that zoning restrictions—including prohibitions on multifamily homes, height limits, minimum lot sizes, square footage minimums, and parking requirements—limit housing supply and decrease affordability. As an example, the report highlighted that minimum lot sizes require developers to build on larger lots than “the market would otherwise provide,” while minimum parking requirements do not meet demand, increase costs, and reduce the amount of housing that could otherwise be built. The report also notes that recent zoning changes allowing multifamily housing in Boston and Minneapolis-Saint Paul have led to increased housing supply, desegregation, and increased shares of Black and Hispanic residents. The report also notes that “physical construction costs have quadrupled since the 1980s, accelerated by an increase in labor and material costs, while construction sector productivity has fallen.”

  • The Energy Department (DOE) announced up to $475 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for five projects in Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to accelerate clean energy deployment on current and former mine land through locally-driven clean energy projects that are replicable in other communities with mine land.The selected projects cover a range of clean energy technologies, from solar, microgrids, and pumped storage hydropower to geothermal and battery energy storage systems. 
  • The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs completed its review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “Worker Walkaround Representative Designation” final rule, the last step before an item is published in the Federal Register. The rule seeks to clarify the right of workers and certified bargaining units to specify a worker, union representative, or other individual to accompany an OSHA inspector during the inspection process/facility walkaround, regardless of whether the representative is an employee of the employer, if in the judgment of the Compliance Safety and Health Officer such person is reasonably necessary for an effective and thorough physical inspection. 

Wednesday, March 20th

  • The Energy Department (DOE) opened applications for the 2024 Renew America’s Schools Prize, which will award $180 million to districts across the country to implement energy upgrades at K-12 schools that demonstrate the need for both energy improvements and financing, with a focus on schools that serve disadvantaged communities. Eligible improvements include new HVAC and ventilation systems, building envelope and lighting projects, alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure, and renewable energy technologies.DOE will issue the largest awards to portfolios serving 20 or more school facilities.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published a notice urging businesses to review seven suspicious signs of a bad Employee Retention Credit (ERC) claim and see if the agency’s special programs can help them avoid future compliance issues. Employers who improperly claimed ERC can avoid penalties and interest—and even get a discount on repayments if they apply by March 22, 2024, to the ERC Voluntary Disclosure Program. The IRS also offers a special claim withdrawal process for businesses whose claim is still pending. The IRS notes that taking steps now to resolve any issues can help businesses get right and avoid future IRS action. 

The seven suspicious signs an ERC claim could be incorrect include: (1) too many quarters being claimed; (2) citing government orders that don’t comply with ERC requirements; (3) including too many employees and incorrect calculations in ERC claims; (4) citing supply chain disruptions in ERC claims, which the IRS says is uncommon; (5) claiming ERC for too much of a tax period; (6) claiming the ERC when no wages were paid or when a business did not exist during the ERC eligibility period; and (7) businesses who claimed the credit because an ERC tax promoter told them they “have nothing to lose.” The IRS also released an interactive ERC Eligibility Checklist that taxpayers and tax professionals can use to check potential eligibility for the ERC. More details on the seven suspicious warning signs and the ERC’s Voluntary Disclosure Program and Special Claim Withdrawal Process are available through the IRS notice here.

Tuesday, March 19th 

  • House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) led a handul of republican members of Congress in a comment letter to the Labor Department requesting that the Department withdraw its proposed rule on “National Apprenticeship System Enhancements.” In the letter, Chair Foxx and her fellow Committee Republicans said the rule expands federal power over apprenticeships, injects political ideology into the apprenticeship system, and imposes significant new burdens on apprenticeship sponsors and employers. Foxx’s letter comes as GOP attorneys general in two dozen states, led by Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti (R), are also pushing back on the Biden Administration’s proposed apprenticeship rule, asserting that it amounts to race-based discrimination.  As noted above, MCAA filed comments of the proposed rule Monday March 18th, noting some positive aspects of it, but raising concerns about many features.
  • The Energy Department announced the launch of a pilot of the Clean Energy Connector in partnership with the Biden Health and Human Services (HHS) Department. The Clean Energy Connector is a first-of-its-kind software tool that connects families to solar energy through HHS’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and can now be used by local LIHEAP program administrators in Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico to connect community solar subscriptions to as many as 40,000 low income households.

Monday, March 18th

  • The Energy Department announced the release of its latest Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report, focusing on the potential of next-generation geothermal power and how advanced geothermal technology could increase the United States’ geothermal energy production twentyfold to 90 gigawatts or more by 2050. The release of this report follows on the heels of DOE’s recent announcement of projects directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to demonstrate the efficacy and scalability of enhanced geothermal systems.

Friday, March 15th

  • The Energy Department announced plans to lend as much as $2.3 billion to the Canadian firm Lithium Americas Corp. to help construct a lithium processing plant in northern Nevada. The loan would help finance the a lithium carbonate processing plant at the Thacker Pass mine about 200 miles north of Reno—“the largest-proven lithium reserves in North America,” according to the Energy Department.

  • The Energy Department released the “2023 Billion-Ton Report” (BT23), detailing how the United States could sustainably triple its production of biomass to more than 1 billion tons per year. BTE23 is the fourth in a series of assessments of potential biomass resources in the United States since 2005. The BTE23 finds that 1 billion tons of biomass could satisfy over 100% of the projected demand for airplane fuel in the country, allowing the U.S. to fully decarbonize the aviation industry with sustainable aviation fuel. BTE23 is intended to compliment the Biden Agriculture Department’s recently released the Plan to Enable the Bioeconomy in America: Building a Resilient Biomass Supply report, which outlines a plan to boost biomass supply chain resiliency for domestic biobased product manufacturing.

Thursday, March 14th

  • The General Services Administration (GSA) announced details of its plans to invest over $1 billion from the President’s Inflation Reduction Act to modernize 38 land ports of entry at the northern and southern borders in Arizona, California, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, and Washington State utilizing “clean construction materials and state-of-the-art sustainable technologies,” of which 23 projects will be to “fully electrify standard building operations and eliminate on-site greenhouse emissions.”
  • The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rulemaking to cut emissions of ethylene oxide, a gas used to sterilize around half of the medical devices in the U.S., which would extend emissions standards to previously unregulated areas of commercial sterilization facilities, such as certain air vents and rooms, and monitor emissions more frequently. A White House fact sheet on the rule is available here.
  • House Education and the Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sent letters to the Labor Department, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board as part of the Committee’s investigation into the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Workers’ Voice Summit” (Summit). Foxx said the nature of the closed-door Summit, attended by Biden Administration personnel and organized labor leaders, suggests that federal labor agencies, led by OSHA, set policies based on the Summit in a way that favored “Big Labor” while denying other stakeholders proper consideration.
  • The New York Times posited that the Senate filibuster may not survive the next Congress given that the most ardent defender of the filibuster, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is stepping down as Republican Leader in November and the coming retirements of Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who provided McConnell critical supporting in opposing changes to the filibuster.

Wednesday, March 13th

  • President Biden announced a $3.3 billion “Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods Program” through the Transportation Department (DOT) funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act to “reconnect and rebuild communities in more than 40 states, including those that were divided by transportation infrastructure decades ago and have long been overlooked.” Projects include: (1) $158 million to reconnect midtown to downtown Atlanta; (2) $159 million to construct the Vine Street Expressway in Philadelphia; and (3) $450 million for the I-5 Rose Corridor Project in Portland. DOT also released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the program detailing labor standards that applicants will need to comply with and flow down to contractors on projects funded under this program. The NOFO makes clear that the Biden Administration intends to use the “Program to support the creation of good-paying jobs with the free and fair choice to join a union and the incorporation of strong labor standards and training and placement programs, especially registered apprenticeships, in project planning stages, consistent with Executive Order 14025, Worker Organizing and Empowerment…and Executive Order 14052, Implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” 
  • President Biden pledged to look into a petition from the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the IBEW, the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department, the United Steelworkers, and the International Association of Machinists asking his administration to review China’s subsidies for shipbuilders. In 2019, China merged its two biggest ship makers to create a state-owned and subsidized industrial and military giant that dwarfs international rivals. This enabled China in 2022 to construct almost half the gross tonnage of merchant ships built that year and has allowed China to quickly expand its merchant and military fleets with about 400 vessels, giving it the world’s largest navy.

  • The Energy Department (DOE) announced $750 million in funding from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for 52 projects across 24 states to advance electrolysis technologies (used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in a unit called an electrolyzer) and improve manufacturing and recycling capabilities for clean hydrogen systems and components. This funding is estimated to support over 1,500 new jobs and enable U.S. manufacturing capacity to produce 14 gigawatts of fuel cells per year, enough to power 15% of medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold each year, and 10 gigawatts of electrolyzers per year, enough to produce an additional 1.3 million tons of clean hydrogen per year. Details on the 52 projects and where they are located can be found here.

Tuesday, March 12th

  • The Energy Department (DOE) released its National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy, developed in collaboration with the Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency, to guide the deployment of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure across the country from 2024 to 2040. The Federal Highway Administration also announced the National Electric Vehicle Freight Corridors for the deployment of charging stations along the National Highway Freight Network and other roadways, as required under the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
  • To mark “Equal Pay Day”, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a new data dashboard featuring a first-time collection of 2017 and 2018 pay data reported by about 70,000 employers and certain federal contractors with 100 or more employees, representing over 100 million workers. The dashboard contains a unique collection of aggregated employer-level workforce demographic and pay data, reported by pay band (which are used to define the range of compensation given for certain roles). Highlights from the data include: (1) in 2018, the median pay band for men was higher than the median pay band for women in all industries except Accommodation and Food Services and in 2017, men and women were in the same pay band in only one other industry—Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction; (2) in 2018, the national median pay band for men was one pay band higher than the median pay band for women ($39,000 to $49,900 for men compared to $30,600 to $38,900 for women) and in 2017, was two pay bands higher ($39,000 to $49,900 for men compared to $24,400 to $30,600 for women); and (3) in 2018, in each race and ethnicity group, women were in a lower median pay band than men of the same race or ethnicity, with Black or African American women and American Indian or Alaska Native women in the lowest median pay band of all groups ($19,200 to $24,400). The EEOC has made this data available for download by the public here. In addition, the EEOC also published a User Guide and Frequently Asked Questions regarding the pay data dashboard.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has begun implementing a streamlined process for Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) to provide Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) more efficiently to eligible refugees after they are admitted into the United States. This streamlined process shortens the wait time for an EAD to approximately 30 days instead of several months. All individuals admitted into the United States as refugees on or after December 10, 2023 will receive EADs pursuant to this new process. With this new process, USCIS will digitally create a Form I-765 for arriving refugees and begin adjudicating it as soon as they are admitted into the United States. After USCIS approves a refugee’s Form I-765, refugees will generally receive their EAD within one to two weeks.

Monday, March 11th

  • The Energy Department announced $425 million in funding from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law through the Advanced Manufacturing and Recycling Grant program to support small and medium-sized manufacturers in current and former coal communities that produce and recycle clean energy products and invest in decarbonization at their facilities. 
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) announced she is running for Senate GOP Conference Chair—the third ranking position in Republican leadership—against fellow defense hawk Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Ernst currently serves as Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the fourth ranking position in Republican leadership. 
  • The Senate Majority PAC, a PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), announced it booked $239 million in television ads to defend Democratic Senate seats in Ohio, Montana, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Around the Country 

Northeast

  • On March 21st, the New York Post published an opinion piece criticizing former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to close the Indian Point nuclear plant in 2021, citing statistics that found that four years after the closure, New York is emitting more carbon per-megawatt hour than Texas and outpaces America as a whole.
  • On March 20th, a new poll found Republican Senate candidate and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan leading his Democratic rivals Rep. David Trone (D-MD) by a 49% to 37% margin and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks by a 50% to 46% margin.
  • On March 14th, the Associated Press reported on a bill making its way through the New Jersey Legislature that would put a question on the November general election ballot asking, “Do you approve amending the state Constitution to grant every person the right to a clean and healthy environment?” Environmentalists say the amendment would enable citizens to seek redress in court if they feel their environmental rights are being violated.
  • On March 13th, Marty Dolan, a Wall Street veteran who has worked in the global risk insurance sector and has been a financial adviser, announced a Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
  • On March 12th, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the expansion of its “Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative” to 150 communities across rural areas and invited applications from rural communities in the Mid-Atlantic Region (Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia). The initiative partners with underserved communities across the country to provide technical assistance on accessing the $50 billion in new federal wastewater funding provided by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

West

Midwest 

  • On March 12th, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC endorsed Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), lending her some institutional backing as she faces a primary challenge.

Southwest

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