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Government Affairs

Government Affairs Update, 09-27-2013

Energy Efficiency Bill Delayed in Senate

After several hours of debate (preceded by years of preparation), the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1392), also known as Shaheen-Portman, was pulled from the Senate floor as a result of a handful of Senators who insisted on holding votes on amendments to the bill concerning the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the Keystone XL Pipeline, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions rules. Reaching an impasse, and not wanting certain Senators to face uncomfortable votes, Senate leadership pulled the bill from the floor in the hopes that an agreement on amendments could be reached at a later time behind the scenes. The Senate then turned its attention to the continuing resolution, which would temporarily fund the federal government at fiscal year 2013 levels and avert a government shutdown (more on this issue in the next section).

The immediate future for Shaheen-Portman is unclear. Over 100 amendments were offered to the bill, some of which have strong bipartisan support and are backed by large coalitions of organizations. As a result, demand is building for action. Despite this momentum, the rules of the Senate give considerable power to individual Senators, some of whom appear intent on using any bill – including Shaheen-Portman – to call attention to their own priority issues, such as health care reform. For better or for worse, the rules of the Senate also allow Members to offer amendments that have little or nothing to do with the base bills. Thus, until all Senators are satisfied with the base bill and other, unrelated issues, Shaheen-Portman will likely sit on the sidelines.

The House of Representatives still appears to be waiting for the Senate to act before moving on their own version of Shaheen-Portman, known in the House as McKinley-Welch (H.R.1616). Negotiations continue in both the Senate and House in the hopes that an agreement can somehow be reached, and energy efficiency legislation allowed to move forward.

For additional information, please contact Mark Ames, ASHRAE’s Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs, at mames@ashrae.org.


Congress Struggles to Avoid Government Shutdown

As of this writing, the House and Senate are barreling headlong towards a government shutdown, which at this stage can only be feasibly avoided if Congress passes what’s called a “continuing resolution”, which would fund the federal government at approximately fiscal year 2013 levels.

In the event of a shutdown, “essential” government services will continue without much, if any interruption, including such things as Social Security checks and public safety. However “non-essential” federal activities would be suspended. These include many programs run by the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), General Services Administration, and others. For a great in-depth explanation of how a government shutdown would work visit http://ow.ly/pfqnt.

The true impact of a shutdown is hard to estimate, as it depends in large part on the length of the event, which is a function of how quickly Members of Congress can reach agreement. Regardless of whether the government shuts down or not, Congress faces another big decision in the coming days – the need to raise the debt ceiling (the Treasury Department has said it will need more borrowing authority by October 17). After the shutdown and debt ceiling issues have been addressed it’s unclear whether Members of Congress will be amenable to resuming debate on the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1392), also known as Shaheen-Portman. The determining factor will likely be the degree to which Members of Congress feel their concerns over unrelated issues such as health care, EPA rules, and other highly politicized issues have been resolved.

For additional information, please contact Mark Ames, ASHRAE’s Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs, at mames@ashrae.org.


Rebuilding America’s Schools Act Introduced in Senate

Recently a group of high-ranking U.S. Senators introduced a bill that would help finance school renovation and construction. The Rebuilding America’s Schools Act (S.1523) would:

  • Permanently extend and expand the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program. QZABs finance school renovations. The bill would make the QZAB program permanent, and increase its allocation from $400 million per year to $1.4 billion per year, the levels authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • Permanently reinstate the successful Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) program. QSCBs help finance the construction of new schools, but expired at the end of 2010. The bill would reinstate the QSCB program with an allocation of $11 billion per year, the level authorized under the Recovery Act; and
  • Make Qualified Zone Academy Bonds easier to use. The bill would restore an expired law that previously allowed school districts to choose to receive direct payments from the Treasury Department to subsidize the interest on the bonds instead of tax credits. It would also allow school districts to meet the requirement of obtaining a 10% contribution from the private sector by pooling their bonds with those of other school districts.

“Our children deserve the very best learning environment we can provide. We know there is a direct correlation between an up-to-date school building and student performance and morale, so it’s critical to the success of our students that we improve existing schools and build new ones,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), one of the bills’ sponsors.

A House version (H.R.1629) of this bill was introduced last April. Both bills have been referred to the tax committees in their respective chambers, where they may sit while the broader tax reform discussion matures.

For additional information, please contact Mark Ames, ASHRAE’s Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs, at mames@ashrae.org.