Aindriu Colgan | NSWA Vice President, Governmental Affairs
After two weeks of almost daily meetings, negotiations on another round of coronavirus relief have stalled out. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced this week that the House will officially adjourn for August with no votes expected until September 14. Lead negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows remained miles apart on almost every item in the negotiations. This even included the overall price tag—Speaker Pelosi insisted on a $3.4 trillion package, along the lines of the HEROES Act which the House passed earlier this summer, while the White House and Majority Leader McConnell insisted on something closer to $1 trillion. Liability protections for businesses was another huge flash point in negotiations. It remains Leader McConnell’s top priority and a top priority for business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, but it is still deeply unpopular with rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers and a few of their largest donors like unions and trial lawyers.
In response to the failure in negotiations, the President signed a series of executive orders to extend unemployment benefits, provide a payroll tax holiday, defer student loan payments through 2020, and extend the federal moratorium on evictions. The supplemental federal unemployment insurance would be reduced to $400 a week from the current $600. The action was quickly condemned by Congressional Democrats—and a few Republicans—as unconstitutional and will certainly draw legal challenges. But right now, Congressional Democrats are faced with having to sue the Administration to stop the benefits—an uncomfortable position less to be in less than two months before the election. Nevertheless, Democratic leaders were quick to criticize the policies, calling the $400 unemployment benefits unworkable since it would pull money from the Hurricane Trust Fund during hurricane season and make states responsible for one-quarter of the amount. They also criticized the payroll tax cut for undermining the Medicare and Social Security Programs and stressed that the moratorium on evictions is more limited than advertised.
Update on Methane Regulations
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to officially announce the repeal of Obama-era regulations on methane emissions from new sources at an event this week in Pittsburgh, PA. The repeal will also stop the federal government from regulating emissions from existing wells, which they would have been compelled to do if the Obama-era regulations were kept in place. NSWA and other opponents of the methane regulations argued that the costs of plugging the leaks from older equipment is too high and would force many wells to shut down.
The 2016 rule, which is being repealed, required companies to install stronger pollution control equipment at any newly constructed wells or other production facilities, and to search for and repair leaks. The final rule is expected to maintain EPA’s argument from the 2019 draft proposal that the Obama administration never legally determined whether the oil and gas industry’s methane emissions count as a “significant contribution” to air pollution that endangers human health and welfare, a legal hurdle under the Clean Air Act.
The rollback would leave void any federal standard and leave companies to comply with state regulations.