TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, July 2019
As Congress gets back to work following the July Fourth break, members (mainly in the House) face the tough task of finding ways to agree on budget spending caps in annual appropriations bills. Meanwhile, the Senate will continue to spend most of its time on confirming Federal judges. Of particular interest to TAUC members, House committees have begun advancing legislation to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
Here is an exclusive update from TAUC on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Multiemployer Pension Update
The House Education and Labor Committee began legislative efforts to address the looming multiemployer pension crisis with a mark-up of H.R. 397, the "Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act" (a rebranding of the Butch Lewis Act from the previous Congress.) The bill would establish a new federal loan program to address failing multiemployer plans. It does not include composite plans. The bill was reported out of committee on a party-line vote.
TAUC joined with building trade unions, contractor associations, pension plans, employers and employer organizations in a letter to the Education and Labor Committee leadership outlining our legislative priorities for addressing the multiemployer pension plan crisis. Unfortunately, many of these priorities were not reflected in the committee-approved product. Thankfully, this is far from the final word on multiemployer pension reform; it is just the first step in what is going to be a very long process.
The House Ways and Means Committee – which shares jurisdiction over pension issues with the House Education and Labor Committee – has announced a mark-up to consider H.R. 397 this week. We anticipate that there could be several amendments offered during the mark-up that could raise significant concerns for contributing employers. Proposals raised during the Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans to mandate lower discount rates and change plan funding rules are expected to be considered. Ways and Means is expected to approve the legislation and send it to the full House for consideration.
Key senate staffers have said that the bill – in its current form — would not receive support from a majority of the Senate, which is expected to work on crafting its own proposal that would be considered this fall at the earliest. The proposal will likely be bipartisan and more comprehensive than the House-passed legislation.
TAUC has joined with the CEA, NCCMP, AGC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other employer groups to educate members of Congress about our pension reform priorities and the need for composite plans.
Trump Administration's Proposed Apprenticeship and Training Rule
The Trump Administration released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to overhaul the nation's apprenticeship and training system and encourage the creation of apprentice training programs across a wide variety of industry sectors. The NPRM can be found here.
As we reported last month, one of the key aspects of the NPRM is the establishment of new "Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program" (IRAPs) that are designed to work outside of the existing registered apprenticeship system and provide greater flexibility. IRAPs would also allow employers to design and certify their own federally assisted training programs with minimal government oversight.
This new approach raises serious concerns with contributing employers to construction industry apprenticeship and training plans – namely, that the new programs would lack sufficient government oversight and training standards and would ultimately undermine existing privately funded registered apprenticeship programs.
We are pleased that the NPRM states that the DOL would not, "at least initially," accept applications to recognize IRAPs in the construction industry; however it is not clear that DOL would not consider construction industry IRAPs in the future. TAUC continues to believe that there should be no IRAPs in the construction industry and will stress this point in its comments on the NPRM. TAUC will also urge the Department to clarify that it will not approve any IRAPs relating to construction maintenance as well as construction, since these activities are so closely linked, especially on industrial construction and maintenance projects.
Comments on the NPRM are due August 26, 2019. We encourage all TAUC members to submit comments on the proposed rule and will soon be providing resources to assist in this process. Please see TAUC's Apprenticeship Rule Resource Page for additional information on the proposed rule. The link to the page can be found here.
Affordable Clean Energy Rule
The Trump administration finalized a rule to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, replacing the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP). While the proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule does continue to give the Federal government the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the proposal does so without forcing major changes on the energy industry and will have far less impact on the nation's energy system than the CPP.
Specifically, ACE establishes emission guidelines for states to develop and submit plans to EPA addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. In recommending that states develop plans to regulate the emissions of individual coal plants by improving efficiency and requiring utilization of technology to meet performance standards in state plans, ACE takes a very different approach than what was proposed under the CPP. While the CPP was stayed by the Supreme Court in 2016 and never went into effect, it would have required utilities to make broader systemic changes to cut emissions, such as switching from coal to natural gas or renewable energy sources.
ACE would allow states to choose from a list of EPA-approved emissions control technologies and options to improve existing coal-fired power plants. The list does not include carbon capture or technologies to capture and store carbon. EPA determined that the technology was not cost-effective. However, the rule does not prevent facilities from using the technology on their own, or states from requiring it under state law, but EPA will not approve a plan that proposes to use carbon capture to comply with the emission reduction guidelines.