Coronavirus Relief Update October 2, 2020

Legislative, NSWA Legislative ReportLeave a Comment

Aindriu Colgan | NSWA Vice President, Governmental Affairs

Despite a flurry of meetings between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the two were unable to come to an agreement on further pandemic relief. Instead, House Democrats passed their own $2.2 trillion package. In addition to the overall relief amount, the two remain far apart on the same issues that have plagued negotiations from the beginning: funding for state and local governments, funding for primary and secondary public education, and liability protections for businesses. Secretary Mnuchin reportedly offered as much as $1.6 billion as late as last Thursday, but the Speaker remained adamant in her demand for $2+ trillion.

Furthermore, even if Pelosi and Mnuchin can agree on a package between $1.5 and $2 trillion, it remains unclear whether it would even be able to pass the Senate. Senate Republicans have repeatedly stated that they simply don’t have the votes for any package more than $1 trillion. To underscore their point, the largest package Senate Republicans succeeded in uniting behind totaled $500 billion—a far cry from House Democrats’ demands.

The Speaker has said that she will continue negotiations with the White House but remains skeptical that they will succeed.

Paycheck Protection Program

The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it will begin forgiving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans this week, after banks and businesses complained that the process was too slow and complex. A spokesperson noted that applications for forgiveness will be approved quickly—with the exception of loans above $2 million, which will receive additional review. Since the SBA launched its online portal for loan forgiveness in August, the agency received more than 96,000 applications for forgiveness, but none have so far been approved.

More than 5.2 million loans, worth northward of $525 billion, had been issued under the program before it expired on August 8. Roughly $130 billion in PPP funds, however, remain unallocated, and lawmakers have yet to agree on a way to allocate those remaining funds. One proposal would allow particularly vulnerable businesses to receive a second PPP loan.

Additionally, lawmakers are advocating for a more streamlined forgiveness process for loans under $150,000. Under that proposal, loans under that amount would receive blanket forgiveness with a simple attestation that the funds were used in accordance with the program’s guidelines. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told Senate lawmakers that he supports simplified forgiveness, but it requires legislation.

Methane Emissions

NSWA recently joined multiple oil and gas associations in court to defend EPA’s repeal of the Obama-era regulations on methane emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund has sued the agency to reverse the ruling.

The EPA’s rulemaking repealed the onerous regulations on methane emissions from new sources and simultaneously stopped the federal government from regulating emissions from existing wells, which the agency would have been compelled to do if the Obama-era regulations remained. NSWA and the other organizations opposing those 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 was repealed, required companies to install stronger pollution control equipment at newly constructed wells or other production facilities, and to search for and repair leaks. The final rule maintained 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 leaves void any federal standard and leaves companies to comply with state regulations.

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