Construction Legislative Week in Review
www.agc.org May 7, 2015
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On the Inside
ENVIRONMENT
Stop the EPA and Corps’ Proposed Rule Redefining "Waters of the U.S."
SAFETY
OSHA Issues Confined Spaces in Construction Final Rule
FEDERAL CONTRACTING
Expediting Federal Infrastructure Permits
House Approves Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Funding Bill
House Passes Robust Corps’ Civil Works Funding Bill
TRANSPORTATION
AGC Asks U.S. DOT to Keep Prohibition on Local Hire Preference
No Clear Path for Highway Bill
Infrastructure Bonding Bill Introduced in the Senate
2016 ELECTIONS
A Democrat and Three Republicans Seek the Oval Office
ENVIRONMENT
Stop the EPA and Corps’ Proposed Rule Redefining "Waters of the U.S."
Action Needed Now: House Vote as Early as Tomorrow, Rule Expected to be Finalized Soon
 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) are close to finalizing their proposed rule redefining "waters of the U.S." and making many more areas subject to federal control. More federal control would require nearly all construction sites to obtain often unnecessary Clean Water Act permits. The vast majority of new areas covered by these rules are currently protected by state and local governments so any increase to overall water quality are questionable.

Next week, the House is expected to vote on H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act.  This legislation would send the federal rule back to the drawing board and would require EPA and the Corps to respond to industry’s observations and concerns filed on the April 2014 proposed rule and describe how the agencies are addressing such comments (more than a million comments were filed). In addition, any new proposed rule would have to include a comprehensive analysis of its impact to small business stakeholders, as required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as well as an accurate and statistically valid cost-benefit analysis.

Urge your representative to vote "yes" on H.R. 1732, The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act to help protect your construction projects from needless permit costs and delays.

For more information, please contact Scott Berry at berrys@agc.org or (703) 837-5321. Return to Top

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SAFETY
OSHA Issues Confined Spaces in Construction Final Rule
 

On Friday, May 1, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its long-awaited confined spaces in construction standard. The new rule will cover activities on construction sites with one or more confined spaces such as manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined spaces that are not intended for continuous occupancy with exemptions for work covered by the excavation and underground construction standards. The final rule is very similar to the general industry standard, but with some differences tailored to the construction industry. These differences include: controlling contractor requirements, continuous monitoring for hazards, and responsibilities of a competent person. 

During the rulemaking process, AGC members recommended that the agency align the final rule with that of the general industry, as opposed to the proposal, which included a very confusing confined spaces classification system as well as other requirements that presented compliance challenges.  The standard will become effective on August 3, 2015

For more information, please contact Kevin Cannon at cannonk@agc.org or (703) 837-5410. Return to Top

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FEDERAL CONTRACTING
Expediting Federal Infrastructure Permits
 

This week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security passed S. 280, a bill sponsored by senators Portman (R-Ohio) and McCaskill (D-Mo.). The bill creates an interagency council to coordinate and expedite permits for major infrastructure projects. The legislation would require cataloguing lists of major projects to review, scheduling review deadlines and tracking status throughout the review process. AGC and industry allies have supported this legislation.

For more information, please contact Jeff Shoaf at shoafj@agc.org or (202) 547-3350. Return to Top

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House Approves Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Funding Bill
House Denies President’s Request to Double VA Construction Spending
 

Late last week, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs on a 255 to 163 vote. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill increases military construction and family housing spending to $7.7 billion, which is $900 million over FY 2015 levels. The bill, however, falls below the $8.4 billion president’s budget request for those accounts in FY 2016.  The House also approved an amendment to the bill that would prohibit the use of any funds to implement a new BRAC round. You can find project-specific funding information in the House Committee Report, linked here.

Lawmakers dealt a blow to the president’s request for $1.143 billion to fund the VA’s major construction account—which funds projects above $10 million—by providing just $561 million, or 50 percent of that request, for FY 2016 funds.  Congressional frustration with significant delays and cost overruns on major VA construction projects account for this action. The bill restricts the ability of the VA to move funds between construction accounts and requires increased VA construction reporting requirements concerning project scope changes.

For more information, please contact Jimmy Christianson at christiansonj@agc.org or (703) 837-5325.  Return to Top

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House Passes Robust Corps’ Civil Works Funding Bill
Includes Policy Rider to Curb EPA's ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Rulemaking
 

Late last week, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill on a 240 to 177 vote that would significantly increase funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program in fiscal year 2016 compared to the president’s budget proposal. The Energy and Water Development appropriations bill would provide about $5.6 billion to the Civil Works Program in FY 2016; that’s $865 million more than the president requested in his budget proposal and $142 million above the FY 2015 funding levels. The bill: (1) increases the president’s proposed construction account funding level by about 40 percent to $1.631 billion; (2) increases the operations and maintenance account funding level to over $3 billion—the most ever and about $350 million more than the president requested; and (3) increases funding out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to about $1.2 billion—the highest ever—and increases spending from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to $340 million—which is reportedly all of the estimated revenues expected to flow into the trust fund this year. You can find project-specific funding information in the House Committee Report, linked here.

The bill also includes a provision restricting funds for the proposed rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Corps that would redefine "Waters of the U.S." Several industry representatives, including AGC, have called for the rule's withdrawal and for the agencies to start over with better input from state and local governments and affected industries before a new proposed rule is issued.

For more information, please contact Jimmy Christianson at christiansonj@agc.org or (703) 837-5325.  Return to Top

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TRANSPORTATION
AGC Asks U.S. DOT to Keep Prohibition on Local Hire Preference
 

AGC submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on its proposal to end its long standing prohibition against the use of geographic-based/local hire preferences on construction contracts that receive federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). AGC called on DOT to stop the pilot program, which would allow state and local governments to use geographic hiring preferences over the next year, and to refrain from making these changes permanent by altering existing FHWA and FTA regulations that prohibit their use.

AGC’s comments pointed out that local hiring requirements were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court because they violate the Privileges and Immunities clause of the Constitution. AGC engaged the law firm, Smith Currie & Hancock LLP, to prepare a legal memo detailing the long history of court decisions declaring these preferences unconstitutional, and was included as part of AGC’s extensive comments challenging the proposal. AGC’s comments also pointed out that local hiring requirements significantly impact a contractor’s workforce by creating a possible scenario where long-term, highly-skilled workers may have to be laid off in order to meet the local hire mandate.  Then, in order to comply with the requirements, employers would have to bring in unnecessary and unskilled workers to fill those now-vacant positions, creating additional costs and safety concerns. This association continues to remind legislators that construction work is not temporary, but is a long-term career for many workers who would unfairly suffer if these preferences are implemented.

AGC suggested that training, changes to some federal requirements, and other outreach initiatives are more realistic ways to give the unemployed and underemployed opportunities for careers in construction.  At a time when workforce shortages are of concern to the construction industry, providing individuals with the training needed is the better approach. AGC has offered to work with DOT on these issues.

AGC is also working with our allies in Congress to prevent DOT from moving forward with this initiative and working to ensure that the pending transportation reauthorization legislation does not have any provisions permitting the use of geographic hiring preferences.

For more information, please contact Brian Deery at deeryb@agc.org or (703) 837-5319. Return to Top

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No Clear Path for Highway Bill
 

As Congressional leaders deliberate on the pending expiration of the current transportation program extension, the AGC-led Transportation Construction Coalition weighed in, urging them to move a short-term extension that will clearly lead to a well-funded multi-year reauthorization of Federal Highway and Transit programs.

Key House leaders, including House Ways & Means Chairman Paul Ryan, are on record for an extension through the end of 2015.  An extension of that length will require an extra $10-11 billion in revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.  Additionally, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said this week that he would also favor an extension through December.  Some Senators, including Environment & Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are pushing for an extension only through July 31, with a goal of moving a multi-year bill by that time.

AGC and our coalition partners will continue to push for an extension that provides the best path towards the ultimate goal of a multi-year reauthorization bill with a sustainable and growing funding source for the Highway Trust Fund.  We continue to encourage AGC chapter and members to contact their Representatives and Senators through Hardhats for Highways and encourage them to act swiftly on fixing the trust fund a moving a long-term transportation bill.

For more information, please contact Sean O’Neill at oneills@agc.org or (202) 547-8892.  Return to Top

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Infrastructure Bonding Bill Introduced in the Senate
 

This week, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced S. 1186, the “Move America Act of 2015.” The AGC-supported bill seeks to promote public-private partnerships in infrastructure development by creating up to $180 billion in new tax-exempt infrastructure bonds (similar to Private Activity Bonds) or up to $45 billion in tax credits that can be given to businesses that invest in infrastructure projects. 

AGC welcomes this latest infrastructure financing proposal and looks forward to working with Senators Wyden and Hoeven in passing this measure, along with a fully-funded long-term surface transportation bill.

For more information, please contact Sean O’Neill at oneills@agc.org or (202) 547-8892.  Return to Top

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2016 ELECTIONS
A Democrat and Three Republicans Seek the Oval Office
 

Last week, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stated his intentions to seek the presidency.  Originally elected Mayor of Burlington on the Socialist Workers Party ticket, Mr. Sanders has served in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate as an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.  Now, he has officially entered the Democratic nomination process for president.  Sanders is a long shot at best, but could find himself as Hillary Clinton’s top opponent should former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) not catch fire.  In interviews, the Senator acknowledges his uphill task of securing the nomination as he’ll be competing against Ms. Clinton, who is expected to raise $2 billion and have the support of several super PACs.

On the Republican side, the presidential field expanded by three this week, as former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, and former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee officially announced their candidacies.
 
Ms. Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican field, is already positioning herself against Hillary Clinton to offer a stark comparison about the direction each woman would lead the county should one of them be elected.  Obviously, the outlook for both is much different beyond ideology and political philosophy.  While former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Clinton looks to be positioned to capture the Democratic nomination, Ms. Fiorina, an unsuccessful California U.S. Senate candidate, is among the longest of shots on the Republican side.

Dr. Carson, a renowned medical practitioner, came into the political realm with a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech, with President Obama sitting only a few seats away, critical of the current state of American culture that attracted great attention around the country.  Dr. Carson has been on the speaking and writing circuit ever since, during which time, he too has committed several gaffes most recently on foreign policy matters.

Former Gov. Huckabee, who announced in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, will hope to build upon his semi-successful 2008 presidential effort that saw him win the important Iowa Caucus and six other states (AL, AR, GA, TN, and WV) on his way to capturing the overall second position in terms of delegates won.  He would fall to eventual GOP nominee John McCain, but outpaced future Republican presidential nominee (2012) Mitt Romney.  Mr. Huckabee, who subsequently hosted his own Fox News television program, did not seek the Presidency in 2012.
 
One of the reasons the first four nomination states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, are chosen is so candidates who may not attract a large amount of money are competitive.  Particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, candidates can still reach a receptive electorate through grassroots campaigning. 
 
For more information, please contact David Ashinoff at ashinoffd@agc.org  or (202) 547-5013.   Return to Top

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