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Climate Change Bill Passes House

ACCE Webmaster on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 12:44:54 am 

Last Friday the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill) passed the House by a seven vote margin, 219-212.  44 Democrats opposed the measure, 8 Republican voted in favor.  President Obama is urging the Senate to take up debate about the bill quickly.  The bill would implement a cap-and-trade system to regulate CO2 emissions.

If you are getting up to speed on this important issue, here are a few articles you should read:

This Reuters piece offers an overview of the bill's basic provisions - FACTBOX: Key energy elements in U.S. climate bill

For info on tariffs and protectionism in the legislation, check out this article from the Washington Post - Obama Praises Climate Bill's Progress but Opposes Its Tariffs

For info on how CO2 credits were allocated and the impact on that would have on utility and oil companies, read this Bloomberg article - Climate Bill Helps Utilities More Than Oil Companies

For thoughts on the political ramifications of this bill, check out this Politico article: Climate change bill: Obama's must-win

NAM - The National Association of Manufactures - opposes Waxman-Markey.  Click to access their Climate Change Toolkit which includes a pdf of their letter to Congress opposing the legislation.

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Looming Crisis in Federal Transportation Funds

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, June 26, 2009 at 9:55:43 pm 

This Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Pocari sent a letter warning state transportation departments that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is short on cash.  In the near term, this shortfall will impact reimbursements to states for federally funded highway projects, potentially  impacting state's payments to contractors and thus threatening highway construction jobs.

Click here to read the press release from AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials)

In the longer term, this shortfall underscores the need for a stable, sustained source of funding for transportation in America.  Changing driving habits - partially a result of the economic downturn - and increased vehicle fuel efficiency are contributing to a decrease in gas tax revenue, the traditional funding stream for transportation.  The Obama administration has called for an 18 month extension of highway funding at existing levels to give Congress time to reach a longer term solution.  A letter this week to Obama from 43 House Democrats from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee calls, instead, for "a six-year, $500 billion bill that would increase highway aid 40 percent and double transit funding."

Click to read more in this article from the Seattle Times.

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Green Buildings by Mandate

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, June 26, 2009 at 7:21:52 pm 

An article in the July issue of Shopping Centers Today, the International Council of Shopping Center's industry magazine, highlights a growing regulatory trend - mandated green building standards for new construction.

Cities, rather than states or the feds, are leading the push for green building standards. The SCT article sites a 2006 mandate in Washington, D.C. which demands that "all new private developments over 50,000 square feet meet at least the lowest LEED standard."  Boston followed suit in 2007 with a similar law that also included green standard obligations for some renovation projects.  San Francisco took green building mandates a step further in 2008 with "an ordinance that applies green building standards to new commercial structures over 5,000 square feet... (and) to residential buildings taller than 75 feet."

The first state to implement mandatory green building standards will likely be California where an existing voluntary green building code is set to be phased in as regulation.

What does this trend toward green building regulation mean?  It certainly has the potential to add time and headaches to the building permitting process.  It will also impact architecture and engineering firms that are not well versed in green building standards.  Added cost to new building projects is also a concern, however there are examples of green buildings that have been constructed at or below the cost of a similar conventional building. 

A 2003 US Department of Energy report titled The Business Case for Sustainable Design in Federal Facilitiescites six large scale green building projects, including one in the private sector, with an initial cost closely comparable to or even less than that of a similar conventional construction project.  The private sector case study from this report, a Herman Miller complex in Zeeland, Michigan, was constructed at a cost of $89 per square foot, a figure $46 less than they spent on another traditional office building, yielding a savings of over 4 million dollars.  Click HERE for a link to the US DOE report.

The US Green Building Council also argues that green buildings can also lead to long term cost savings through reduced operating costs by using less energy and water, and improved productivity through lower employee illness and absenteeism due to improved indoor air quality.

The US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program for green buildings has been around for more than a decade and is the most widely recognized green building standard.  The US GBC website describes the LEED program as:

"...third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts."

Last year's ACCE Convention was held in Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the largest LEED gold certified green convention center in America.  The Raleigh Convention Center, where we'll be for the 2009 Convention, expects results from their LEED certification application this summer.

For more on this issue, check out the Green Building Issue Brief from ACCE's Policy Clearinghouse.org.

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Tobacco Taxes on the Rise

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:59:50 am 

Tobacco made headlines this week when President Obama signed legislation authorizing FDA regulation of the tobacco industry.  A lesser reported tobacco story is the tax hit smokers are taking in this economy.

47 states face major budget deficits, and no one has the stomach for broad income, property or sales tax hikes, particuarly since we're trying to claw our way out of the downturn.  Thus, "sin taxes" are one of the few politically viable ways to generate revenue and narrow groups may end up shouldering a disproportionate share of the budget gap burden.

Here's an excerpt from a Stateline.org article on the topic:

"For lawmakers scrounging to balance state budgets in a recession, tobacco taxes were one of the most popular options on the table this year. Seven states  — Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Vermont — tapped smokers’ wallets to help fill their budget gaps, up from two states in 2008. More than 20 additional states debated whether to follow suit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

The same Stateline article includes a chart listing all the state cigarette taxes, from the lowest in South Carolina ($.07 per pack) the the highest in New York ($2.75 per pack).  Click HERE.

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ACCE Convention Speaker Profile - Keith Trent, Duke Energy

ACCE Webmaster on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 7:53:43 pm 

Keith trent Questions about the Waxman-Markey Energy Bill? Interested in the economic development potential of solar and wind energy?  Want to know what role nuclear might play in our national energy policy?  Get answers to those questions at the ACCE Convention in Raleigh, July 29-Aug 1.

B. Keith Trent, Chief Strategy, Policy, and Regulatory Officer at Duke Energy, will examine national energy policy at our convention workshop: Energy: Renewables, Mandates and the New Economy on July 30 at 11:15 am.  Trent is responsible for strategy, federal policy and government affairs, energy efficiency and technology initiatives, environmental health and safety policy, corporate communications, and sustainability and community affairs. He was formerly Duke Energy's chief development officer and general counsel.

Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, Duke Energy is one of the largest electric power companies in the United States.  They supply and deliver energy to approximately 4 million U.S. customers and have approximately 35,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity in the Midwest and the Carolinas.

For more information about the 2009 ACCE Convention and to register go to www.acce.org/convention.

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Debate over Cap and Trade

ACCE Webmaster on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 7:27:49 pm 

With the introduction of the draft Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 this May, the national debate over energy policy is heating up.  The most contentious issue is the proposed cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions. 

Cap and trade programs work by setting an upper limit (or cap) on the total emission of the substance in question, and then rationing out emission credits based on a formula up to the cap.  In the case of greenhouse gas, utility companies and manufacturers that emit CO2 would be allowed emissioncredits up the cap.  Companies or utilities that are able to reduce their emissions and can sell unused credits, effectively creating a market for emissions.  The upper cap would be ratcheted down over time.

The US Chamber has detailed their concerns with the Waxman-Markey proposal.  The Heritage Foundation has issued a blanket warning about all cap and trade programs fearing that they "would likely increase energy costs and do considerably more economic harm than environmental good." A Wall Street Journal editorial from earlier this year declared: "Cap and trade is the tax that dare not speak its name."

Here are other resources to help bring you up-to-speed on Cap and Trade:

Look for more posts about this issue on the Policy Clearinghouse Blog.  Also, plan to sit in on the "Energy: Renewables, Mandates and the New Economy" workshop at the ACCE Convention in Raleigh.

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Sen. Graham Addresses Local Chamber Audience on Health Care

ACCE Webmaster on Monday, June 15, 2009 at 10:18:39 pm 

In a luncheon speech to members of the Anderson (SC) Area Chamber of Commerce last week, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham shard his views on health care.  With the national debate on President Obama's health care plan heating up, no issue is more relevant. 

In his remarks, Sen. Graham called health care costs one of the state's biggest threat to jobs.  However, he expressed reservations about the time frame and proposals for health care reform presented by the Obama administration:

“I’m not so sure we can put together a product worthy of this great nation in five to seven weeks,” he said, cautioning against quick action on a complicated problem. “I know what I’m against. I just need to figure out what I’m for.”

During the speech Sen. Graham also reinforced his opposition to Card Check and highlighted the proposed legislation's binding arbitration clause as a point of great concern.

Click to read the full article from the Anderson Independent Mail.

 

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A Public Employee Pension Solution

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 9:39:34 pm 

In the June/July issue of the Green Bay (WI) Area Chamber's magazine, Bay Business Journal,Chamber CEO Paul Jadin called on the state to use the projected budget deficit as an opportunity to make structural changes to the public employee pension system.  Below are excerpts from his article entitled: Fix What's Broken.

The vast majority of public employers are paying 100 percent of this cost through labor agreements which, decades ago, eliminated any employee share. Trying to "take back" this benefit at the bargaining table is virtually impossible under Wisconsin’s Municipal Employment Relations Act because any attempt to do so would lead to arbitration and arbitrators have consistently argued that, when eliminating or reducing a benefit, the employer must provide a dollar-for-dollar quid pro quo. Therefore, if you want to cut a million dollars’ worth of pension costs all you have to do is create a new benefit, or supplement an existing one, at a cost of one million dollars.

That’s not the approach I am suggesting here. Indeed, as a former labor negotiator I can appreciate labor’s argument that these benefits were achieved through good faith negotiation and should not be removed, therefore, by legislative fiat. Instead, why shouldn’t the legislature mandate that all public employees hired after a date-certain, say Jan. 1, 2010, be required to invest in their own retirement?

He caps off his argument, saying:

The private sector has made extraordinary changes in the way it funds retirement over the past couple of years and it is foolish for us to treat our nearly one hundred billion dollar system as if it is off limits.

Public pension liability is a major issue, and the ongoing budget crisis that many states currently face is a golden opportunity to enact structural changes that will allow pension program sustainability.  Seize ethis moment to make recommendations in your state.

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Sen. Feinstein Caught on Card Check

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 3:25:00 pm 

California Senator Diane Feinstein finds herself at the center of the ongoing Card Check saga.  Sen. Feinstein has broken party rank and expressed reservations about the Employee Free Choice Act in the past, and now states that she is working to find "middle ground."

She is facing pressure at home from organized labor, but visiting delegations of local chamber members from across California re taking their message directly to Washington.

Feinstein, who has proposed a compromise whereby workers would mail in ballots, was unswayed by either side. "I am working to find common ground between the needs of both business and labor in order to reach a bipartisan solution," she said in a statement.

No way out?: Equally unswayed was Scott Raty, CEO of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, who along with members of the Santa Clara, Mountain View and Fresno chambers and a handful of Bay Area small-business owners, were part of the U.S. Chamber's approximately 280-person strike force. "What it really compromises is the secret ballot. There's just no meeting of the minds on this," he said.

Click  to read the full article from the San Fransisco Chronicle.

We have planned a workshop about Card Check for the ACCE Annual Convention in Raleigh - Card Check: Lessons Learned on Friday, July 31 at 11:15 am.  Gene Barr, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce will recap where we are, where we've come, and where we're going in the Card Check debate.  He'll also pull out lessons learned for the broader chamber community on grassroots organization, communications strategy and coordinated advocacy efforts.

Don't miss this session.  Sign up for the ACCE Convention today to take advantage of early bird registration rates.  Early bird rates end June 12.

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ACCE Convention Speaker Profile - Jack Basso, AASHTO

Ian Scott on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 12:15:01 am 

Basso With stimulus funds still coming out and Highway Bill Re-authorization looming, what chamber is not focused on transportation infrastructure these days?  Transportation is certainly a hot issue and ACCE is bringing in one of the best speakers available to the Annual Convention in Raleigh this summer... Jack Basso, Chief Operating Officer for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

Basso is the featured guest speaker for the "Future of Infrastructure" workshop, scheduled for Friday, July 31 at 9:45 am.  His presentation will provide a broad outlook on the administration's transportation and infrastructure priorities, and will address questions about stimulus spending, public private partnerships, local funding mechanisms, and more.

Jack Basso oversees the management of a AASHTO and develops new member services, and markets current technical services provided for AASHTO members.  Prior to joining AASHTO, Mr. Basso served as Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs and as CFO of the US DOT where he oversaw the development of a $60 billion budget and interacted with senior officials, members of congress and key industry officials on transportation matters.

AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It represents all five transportation modes: air, highways, public transportation, rail, and water. Its primary goal is to foster the development, operation, and maintenance of an integrated national transportation system.

Don't miss this great workshop, register for the ACCE Convention today!  Early bird rates end this Friday, sign up now to get the best price.

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