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Renewable-Energy Backlog Grew in 2023

The number of renewable energy projects awaiting entry onto the power grid rose significantly in 2023, according to POLITICO Pro (subscription).

What’s going on: There were “2,600 gigawatts of energy and storage capacity trying to connect [last year], according to a report released Wednesday by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.”

  • The waiting projects—most of which are wind, solar and storage capacity initiatives kickstarted with incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022—could more than double current grid capacity, the report says.
  • Solar accounts for most of the generation.

The problem: Despite an order passed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year intended to speed up the process of getting new resources connected, “most regions have not yet implemented the new rule, leaving power systems across the country jammed.”

  • The need to link in new energy sources quickly will only grow in the coming years, as the U.S. moves more toward electrification.

Our view: “Energy security is more important than ever,” NAM Director of Domestic Policy Michael Davin said. “Manufacturers need affordable, reliable energy to power economic growth. This is why we greatly need comprehensive permitting reform to expedite these projects and many more.”

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Senate Approves NLRB “Joint Employer” Repeal Proposal

The Senate this week approved a resolution to repeal the National Labor Relations Board joint employer rule, Reuters (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: In a 50–48 vote Wednesday, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed a Congressional Review Act resolution to block an NLRB “rule that would treat companies as the employers of many of their contract and franchise workers and require them to bargain with those workers’ unions.”

  • President Biden pledged to veto the resolution, which the House approved in January. A veto would send the measure back to Congress, where it appears to lack the necessary votes for an override.
  • The CRA “allows Congress to repeal agency rules through a majority vote in both houses.” The president must sign the resolution for it to take effect.
  • The rule was scheduled to go into effect in February but was blocked by a federal judge in Texas. The NLRB is considering options in response to the decision.

What it would do: “The rule would treat companies as ‘joint employers’ of contract and franchise workers when they have control over key working conditions such as pay, scheduling, discipline and supervision, even if that control is indirect or not exercised.”

Why it would be problematic: The NLRB requirement would lead to confusion about which businesses should be considered employers, “disrupting franchising and routine contracting arrangements,” according to another Reuters article.

The NAM says: The joint employer rule would “harm manufacturers at a time when they need the flexibility and contingency offered through temporary and contract workers to best manage supply chain impacts, demand for manufactured products and other inflationary challenges,” the NAM told the NLRB in December.

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Producer Prices Increase Less Than Expected

Prices paid by businesses to goods and services producers in the U.S. rose by slightly less than anticipated in March, according to

What’s going on: “The producer price index for final demand rose 0.2% last month, after rising by 0.6% in February, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Economists had expected the PPI to gain 0.3%. In the 12 months through January, the PPI increased 2.1%, below the 2.2% expected, after climbing 1.6% in February.”

  • “Core” PPI, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.2% on the month, for an annual increase of 2.4%.
  • The data comes just a day after the release of a higher-than-anticipated consumer price index for last month.

The details: Services inflation stayed elevated, with a gain of 0.3% in prices in March, Barron’s reports.

  • Goods prices, however, edged down 0.1%.
  • A 1.6% decline in energy prices made up much of March’s overall decrease and outweighed a 0.8% increase in food prices.

Why it’s important: The news may mean an interest-rate cut from the Federal Reserve will come later than previously thought.

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Consumer Prices Increased in March

Prices paid by consumers for goods and services rose last month, according to CNBC.

What’s going on: The consumer price index, “a broad measure of goods and services costs across the economy, rose 0.4% for the month, putting the 12-month inflation rate at 3.5%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for a 0.3% gain and a 3.4% year-over-year level.”

  • March’s seasonally adjusted CPI increase was the same as February’s.

Core CPI: Core CPI, which excludes often volatile food and energy costs, also increased 0.4% on a monthly basis.

  • Core CPI for March was 3.8% higher than it was in March 2023.

Why it’s important: CPI is the most widely used measure of inflation, and these data “indicat[e] that inflation is staying stubbornly higher and likely keeping the Federal Reserve on hold with interest rates.”

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EPA Awards $20 Billion in “Green Bank” Funds

The EPA late last week awarded $20 billion to community development banks and nonprofit organizations to combat climate change in disadvantaged communities in the U.S., the Associated Press reports.

What’s going on: Money from the “green bank” initiative “could fund tens of thousands of eligible projects ranging from residential heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements to larger-scale projects such as electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers.”

  • Previously called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, the $27 billion “green bank” overseeing the grants was created by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. Its aim is “to reduce climate and air pollution and mobilize public and private capital in the communities that need it most.”

Where the money went: At least $14 billion of the funding is reserved for low-income and rural areas, neighborhoods of color and communities with shuttered coal mines, among other locations.

  • One of the bank’s funds is the National Clean Investment Fund. Grants from that pot include nearly $7 billion to help consumers, schools and small businesses and farms, $5 billion to “leverage the existing and growing national network of green banks” and $2 billion for decarbonized, affordable housing, according to Axios.
  • Another fund, the $6 billion Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, is for centers that offer technical help and lending to clean-technology projects.

How it works: “Recipients committed to spending $7 in private sector funding for each $1 from the federal investment money, to ‘reduce or avoid’ 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year and earmark 70% of the money for disadvantaged and low-income communities. These groups are often passed over by commercial banks and investors yet are  disproportionately impacted by climate change.”

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NAM: Ethylene Oxide Rule Needs Revision

A newly finalized rule from the EPA will require chemical and plastics plants to slash emissions of two widely used compounds, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

What’s going on: The EPA’s final rule, released Tuesday, requires manufacturing facilities to curb emissions of chemicals including ethylene oxide and chloroprene. These two chemicals have broad applications, from sterilizing medical equipment to producing synthetic rubber.

  • The rule would affect about 200 plants across the U.S. and include a requirement for “fenceline monitoring,” the use of technology to measure the ambient air concentration for certain chemicals.
  • Once in effect, the regulation could reduce emissions of both compounds by almost 80% annually, the EPA said.

The background: The news comes less than a month after the EPA finalized a rule to regulate the use of ethylene oxide as a sterilizing agent, a decision that will affect the way most medical devices—including complex, lifesaving ones, such as artificial heart valves—are sterilized.

Regulatory onslaught continues: “While the EPA listened to some of manufacturers’ concerns, such as allowing more time for companies throughout the supply chain to assess the impact on their operations, the rulemaking adds to the ongoing regulatory onslaught our industry has been facing,” said NAM Managing Vice President of Policy Chris Netram.

Effect on supply chains: The fenceline monitoring schedule will be a “significant burden” to manufacturers, as will the EPA’s requirement that operations be fully shut down for small plant repairs, Netram continued.

  • “The potential disruption to supply chains could make it more difficult to create jobs in communities across the country.”
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House Passes Bill That Would Rein in PBMs

The House passed a health care package on Monday that includes measures to curb some practices by pharmacy benefit managers, according to STAT News.

What’s going on: The Lower Costs, More Transparency Leadership Act, which passed on a bipartisan vote, “would equalize payment between hospital outpatient departments and doctors’ offices for administering medicines in Medicare, rein in some practices by pharmacy benefit managers and codify health care price transparency rules.” 

  • The vote on the measure was scheduled for September originally but was pushed back amid a larger funding dispute.

What it means: The package would prohibit PBMs from “spread pricing”—or charging Medicaid more than they pay pharmacies for medications.

  • It would also require PBMs, “clinical lab test providers, imaging providers [and] ambulatory surgical centers … to be more transparent about their pricing.”

What’s next: “Some community health advocates hope Monday’s vote will jump-start negotiations with the Senate, where leaders have signaled they’re looking for more than what’s in the House bill,” POLITICO reports.

Our view: “House passage of the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act is a step forward for PBM transparency, but Congress must continue to advance reforms that ensure PBMs pass on prescription drug discounts directly to plan sponsors and patients as well as delink their compensation from the list price of drugs,” the NAM said on Tuesday.

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Retailers Whittle Down Holiday Offerings

This holiday season, instead of overstocking shelves with merchandise, retailers “have pared back their inventories while trying to focus their supply chains more tightly on products that shoppers want,” The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: “Many retailers have spent much of the year working through the stockpiles from last year and now say they have cleaned up their distribution centers and their balance sheets.”

  • After the global pandemic, sellers bulked up their stocks in case of another major supply chain disruption—but it was a “strategy that left many companies saddled with goods.”

A different holiday season: Owing to high inflation and more spending on services than goods, “[h]oliday retail sales in the U.S. are expected to grow at a slower rate this year.”

  • “The National Retail Federation predicted sales will rise between 3% and 4% over 2022 to between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion. Last year, holiday sales grew 5.3% to $936.3 billion.”

​​​​​​​ What they’re doing: Retailer strategies for this year include paying close attention to consumer trends and offering “variety [over] redundancy.”

  • Said one retailer’s CEO, “The customer today does not want an endless aisle. They want the best aisle.”
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U.S., Others Release AI Safety Guidelines

The U.S. and 17 other countries have agreed to “a set of guidelines to ensure AI systems are built to ‘function as intended’ without leaking sensitive data to unauthorized users,” The Hill reports.

What’s going on: The 20-page document—unveiled last Sunday and published jointly by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the UK National Security Centre—enumerates recommendations for everything “from AI system design and development to its deployment and maintenance.”

  • The agreement discusses threats to AI systems, how to protect AI models and data and how to release and monitor AI systems responsibly.
  • Other signatories include Canada, Australia, Germany, Israel, Nigeria and Poland.

Why it’s important: “This is the first time that we have seen an affirmation that these capabilities should not just be about cool features and how quickly we can get them to market or how we can compete to drive down costs,” said U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly.

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New Regulations Could Hurt Competitiveness

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The NAM is leading the charge in urging the Biden administration to walk back a proposed revision to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

With the release of a letter signed by more than 70 associations representing nearly every sector of the U.S. economy and a new video advertisement, the NAM is highlighting how these regulatory actions would devastate the economy and actively undermine President Biden’s goal to expand manufacturing in the United States.

What’s going on: When the Environmental Protection Agency set forth the tentative new air quality standards earlier this year, manufacturers quickly recognized that if enacted, the new rules would put an undue burden on the industry—and could force companies to move operations overseas.

  • Soon, manufacturers and related associations across the country began to speak out about the harm to their operations and communities, even as they affirmed the industry’s longstanding commitment to a clean, safe environment for all.

The background: The EPA’s proposed changes to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards—currently under review by the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs— would lower the primary annual particulate matter standard from 12.0 µg/m3 to between 8.0 and 10.0 µg/m3.

  • The EPA has estimated the total cost of the controls required for compliance with the proposed standard at up to $1.8 billion—and that figure could go higher, the agency admitted.
  • What’s more, some areas in the U.S. are already in “nonattainment” with the current PM2.5 standard, so a stricter standard will only put them further away from compliance and economic growth.

The costs: According to an analysis by Oxford Analytics and commissioned by the NAM, the revisions would:

  • Threaten nearly $200 billion of economic activity and put up to a million current jobs at risk, both directly from manufacturing and indirectly from supply chain spending;
  • In addition, growth in restricted areas may be constrained, limiting investment and expansion over the coming years; if the PM2.5 standard moves to 8 from the current 12, nearly 40% of the country will live in nonattainment areas, putting jobs and livelihoods at risk as factories may no longer be able to operate if located in an area that is in nonattainment, and no new facilities can be built to grow economic prospects; and
  • Hit California’s manufacturing sector hardest, followed by Michigan and Illinois.

Speaking out: Many manufacturers from all sectors, along with related associations, have made their concerns public.

  • Michael Canty, president and CEO of Alloy Precision Technologies of Mentor, Ohio, pointed out that these regulations may force companies to move production to other countries that don’t care about emissions reductions, unlike the U.S.
  • Mark Biel, CEO of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, also worries that this regulation could make his state less attractive for manufacturers, despite its many assets.
  • Dawn Crandall, executive vice president of government relations for the Home Builders Association of Michigan, decried the potential knock-on effects for Michigan’s suffering housing market.

The last word: The proposed changes “would risk jobs and livelihoods by making it even more difficult to obtain permits for new factories, facilities and infrastructure to power economic growth,” leadership from approximately 70 industry groups told White House Chief of Staff Jeffrey Zients yesterday.

  • The revisions “would also threaten successful implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the important clean energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. … We urge you to ensure the EPA maintains the existing fine particulate matter standards to [safeguard] both continued environmental protection and economic growth.”
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