Government Affairs

T&I Committee Chair Releases Surface Transportation Reauthorization Language

House T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) today released the text of the much-anticipated surface transportation reauthorization, known as the INVEST in America Act, according to information provided by ACPA legislative consultants Ed Graber and Chad Bradley. This is a five-year, $494 billion package built largely on the framework he released in January. (Click here to see related story.)

According to sources with the committee, there are three main titles, with topline funding amounts of $319 billion for highways, $105 billion for transit, and $60 billion for rail. This represents an increase in highway funding of roughly 46%.

The major themes of the bill are state of good repair, safety and climate mitigation, and resiliency.

For the Highways title, FY 2021 would see an extension of current policies under current law, though the boosted funding levels in the bill allow continued recovery from COVID-19 rather than a mandate to stand up new programs while agencies are still recovering. There will also be new eligibilities to help with recovery like allowing funds for operations and administrative expenses, as well as 100% federal cost share (i.e. waiving state-match requirements).

Starting in FY 2021, the new programs and policies that would take effect, include:

  • Significant changes to highway grant programs, though formulas are the same.
  • Dedicated bridge investment program, 20% of the highway formula or about $28 billion.
  • Changes to the national highway performance program to put more focus on state of good repair.
  • A doubling of funds for vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and a focus on cybersecurity to push pilots toward implementation. The bill also includes a new national 50-state VMT pilot program to research alternative funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

There is also a series of climate change provisions throughout the measure, including:

  • A new apportionment program, with one part focused on climate change mitigation and another on resiliency.
  • A resiliency program funded at S6.25 billion. A natural infrastructure component would be added to eligibility.
  • Pollution reduction and resiliency woven into the project planning process.
  • Funding for new research into green highway materials.
  • Policies supporting complete streets.

The committee tentatively plans to mark up the bill June 17. It is worth noting that T&I majority have not yet shared details on the bill’s policies or timing with their Republican counterparts, nor has the Ways and Means Committee decided how it will pay for the bill.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), in a ‘dear colleague’ letter dated May 29th indicated that surface transportation legislation is among several must-pass bills slated for consideration on the floor in late June through July.

We will keep you apprised as more details are made available. We consider it a good sign that the House is prioritizing a surface transportation bill this summer.

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President Orders Federal Agencies to Remove Regulatory Barriers

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use maximum effort to eliminate regulatory barriers that could slow recovery of the U.S. economy from its pandemic-induced slump, according to ARTBA’s Washington Newsline.

The “Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery” order says “agencies should address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities and operational feasibility.”

 The order also makes several significant changes to regulatory policy, including:

  • Directing all agencies to consider adopting a “good faith” standard for regulatory enforcement actions;
  • Stating that non-adherence to agency guidance should not be the sole reason for an agency enforcement action;
  • Shifting the burden of proof to the government for regulatory compliance; subjects of enforcement actions would not “bear the burden” of proving compliance; and
  • Affording subjects of any enforcement action an opportunity to respond before any enforcement action.

Individual agencies are likely to implement the order in different ways. The Office of Management and Budget will monitor compliance and issue additional details.

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OSHA Releases Revised Coronavirus Recording Guidance

On May 19, 2020, OSHA released its Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus that it began enforcing last week, according to a recent issue of PCA’s “This Week in Washington” newsletter.

Along with the new guidance, OSHA also released an Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan.

Based on the Enforcement Guidance, OSHA will enforce recordkeeping requirements for recording cases of COVID-19 at the workplace as a reportable illness, and employers must record work-related cases of the novel coronavirus.

Recognizing that it is still extremely difficult to determine whether a case of COVID-19 is work-related, OSHA will use its enforcement discretion to assess whether employers made a reasonable and good faith determination of work-relatedness based on available evidence.

Under OSHA’s Enforcement Response Plan, the agency will increase in-person inspections at all workplaces. However, OSHA will continue to prioritize COVID-related inspections and workplaces deemed by OSHA as a high or very high-risk type, for example, hospitals, emergency medical centers, and emergency response facilities. Construction operations subject to OSHA rules are likely to fall into the lower exposure risk category.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

Permitting Council Issues Annual Report on Infrastructure

The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council) issued its Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2019, showcasing another year of success in reducing costs and timelines for permitting infrastructure projects that fuel America’s job market and economy.

In the report, Executive Director Alexander Herrgott, reports, “President Trump inherited a fragmented Federal process for authorizing infrastructure projects, fraught with unnecessary costs, delays, and uncertainty.

“As this annual report demonstrates, the Permitting Council plays a vital role in President Trump’s commitment to cutting red tape and delivering infrastructure that America’s communities and businesses need now more than ever. The Permitting Council has helped reduce delays, costs, and uncertainty for these vital infrastructure projects, while ensuring environmental protection,” he says.

“This year alone we reduced environmental review times for projects covered by the Council by an average of 1.5 years, supported the creation of more than 127,000 temporary construction jobs and over 3,000 permanent jobs across the country. We estimate that if Federal agencies complete all Federal permitting decisions that are achievable for Council-managed projects in the next 365 days, the result will be $56 billion in new infrastructure investment and over 40,000 new construction-related jobs,” he adds.

Click here to see a fact sheet from the Permitting Council.

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HMG Letter Outlines Concerns About Aspects of PPP Loan Program

A letter from the Highway Materials Group expressed concerns about specific terms associated with loans under the CARES Act passed by Congress at the end of March.

Addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), the letter details three concerns: 

  • There is no clarity on how a firm demonstrates necessity in seeking a loan. Businesses applying for Paycheck Protection program (PPP) loans were required to certify in good faith that the uncertainty of economic conditions made the loan necessary for their business at the time they applied for it. Comments by public officials in the wake of revelations of publicly held companies receiving loans have left small businesses concerned that they may face penalties, despite acting in good faith. The letter says further assurances are needed for small businesses with loans above $2 million.
  • The tax deductibility of expenses paid with PPP funds. PPP loans were intended to cover payroll and limited business expenses like rent and mortgage obligations. Guidance issued by Treasury more than three weeks after SBA began accepting PPP loans indicated that business expenses previously considered tax deductible would not be so considered if paid for with PPP funds. The letter urges Congress to ensure this issue is resolved in future relief legislation.
  • Many small businesses are now uncertain how to use their PPP funds because of the ambiguities and complexities of the guidance. The level of guidance does not provide sufficient detail necessary for small businesses to proceed with any degree of certainty, and our members now fear SBA audits, fraud charges and bad publicity, despite acting in good faith from the start.
  • The HMG urges Congress to provide additional assurances that companies utilizing PPP loans, in the spirit in which they were intended, will not face penalties for failure to comply with retroactively imposed requirements.

Click here to see the complete letter.

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Follow this link to see ACPA’s government affairs repository.

 

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