COVID-19 Update | Friday, Aug. 28
August 28, 2020
Both the House and the Senate are in recess. As a reminder, the next Senate vote is not expected until September 8 and the next House vote is not expected until September 14.
- During her weekly press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) re-emphasized that if Republicans are unwilling to go above their $1T ceiling for a COVID-19 deal, there will not be much to discuss between the two sides.
- As a reminder, Republican negotiators, which include White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have been adamant in their refusal to agree to a deal above $1T. Democrats, led by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), had originally offered a $3.4T plan in May, in the House-passed HEROES Act, but have made concessions to lower their offer to $2.2T.
- Pelosi and Meadows spoke over the phone on Thursday night for about 25 minutes, the first official communication between the two sides in weeks.
- After the call, Pelosi told reporters that Democrats were willing to agree to a deal of $2.2T, but that it did not satisfy Republicans enough to restart negotiations. She also expressed pessimism of the two sides coming to a deal anytime soon.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led a group of eight other Senate Democrats in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper urging the Pentagon to provide more transparency about how it is ensuring that soldiers and their families do not contract COVID-19.
- Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) led a bipartisan group of 23 Senators in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer calling for the use of consultation and enforcement measures in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to ensure that Canada and Mexico deliver on all obligations related to dairy products. The letter argues that the two countries are not in compliance with the USMCA on these issues currently. A press release on the letter can be found here.
- As a reminder, on August 14 we reported that Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Tom Reed (R-NY) led a bipartisan letter with over 100 House Members calling for the same.
- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) announced that the committee will begin work on a resolution holding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in contempt for his ongoing refusal to comply with the committee’s subpoena of records regarding his use of Department resources. Engel has asked Pompeo to speak before the committee on numerous occasions regarding alleged misuse of Department of State resources for political purposes.
- Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to help produce a COVID-19 vaccine, announced in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that two additional potential vaccine candidates will receive funding from OWS. The announcement did not specify which companies will be selected.
- Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske said in a recent interview that TSA has made a more concerted effort since March to ensure their officers are keeping their distance from airline passengers through increased spending on personal protective equipment (PPE) and acrylic barriers at security checkpoints. TSA has already spent money on other technology, such as computer tomography (CT) machines, to decrease the physical interaction between their officers and passengers. Pekoske noted that TSA supports the wearing of masks and temperature checks but stated that both should be regulated by airports and airlines, rather than the government and TSA.
- The Integration Pilot Program (IPP), in which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) partnered with nine states, cities and universities to research and test integrating drones into the national airspace, will close in October. Currently, it is unclear what will follow the pilot program.
- The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced on Thursday that 25 projects in 24 states and 1 territory will receive a share of approximately $14M in funding from the Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) initiative to support mobility and innovation in the transit sector.
- The FTA’s fourth listening session to support peer-to-peer exchange and information sharing on how the transit industry is recovering from COVID-19 will take place on September 24 at 2:30pm ET. The session will deal with “Managing Vehicles and Facilities in a New Service Environment.” Registration can be found here.
- A new report in the journal for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that it is possible to get infected with COVID-19 on aircraft.
- However, in an August 9 CDC Travel Advisory, they did note that “most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.”
- The report suggested that attention is warranted to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 on aircraft and that stringent global regulations for the prevention of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft can prevent public health emergencies.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is subject to a lawsuit filed by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina regarding the Trump Administration’s allowing of seismic exploration for oil and gas off North Carolina’s coast. A press release from Stein’s office can be found here.
- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has so far been unwilling to make certain documents public regarding the Boeing 737 MAX accidents. The victims’ families claim that not releasing these documents is hindering their lawsuit against Boeing. In a letter to the families’ counsel, the NTSB maintained that it is up to Boeing to release the information.
- The Coast Guard announced that the Cutter Healy icebreaker, the Coast Guard’s only medium-sized icebreaker, suffered an electric fire on August 18 while en route to the Arctic. The Healy has returned to Seattle, and for the time being, the Coast Guard has halted Arctic operations.
- The loss of this icebreaker will further exacerbate the national security and economic concerns surrounding the U.S. presence in the Arctic. The fire on the Healy leaves only the Polar Star, the 42-year old heavy icebreaker currently undergoing repairs. Congress has recently prioritized adding additional icebreakers to the fleet, but construction on the new vessels has yet to begin.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a recent report that the Administration’s decision to cut short the schedule for the 2020 Census poses a risk to a complete and accurate count.
- In an interview, Mike French, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) chief of staff, who is now vice president of space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association, said that Congress should provide the agency with stability and consistency by passing an authorization bill that compliments annual spending bills.
- For Federal Register notices, please refer to the end of the update.
- Hurricane Laura forced Exxon, Valero, Shell, Motiva and other companies to close their oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana, and nearly 1.6M barrels of daily oil production was moved away from the Gulf Coast.
- Laura put a major hubs of U.S. oil and gas production and refining, specifically Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana, which make up some 1.3M barrels per day of refining capacity, at risk. Environment Texas, part of The Public Interest Network, analyzed refinery and chemical plant shut-down reports across the Gulf Coast and found that 3M pounds of carbon dioxide and 130K pounds of pollution would be released. The Department of Energy (DOE) said that it is ready to help support the energy sector with any response efforts.
- On Thursday, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told reporters on a call that initial assessments indicated that oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana suffered only light damage from the Hurricane.
- The DOE reported Thursday afternoon that there were more than 800K power outages across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
- Multiple businesses and organizations, including the American Institute of CPAs and the Council on State Taxation, sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking them to include tax filing relief for remote workers in either a next COVID-19 relief package or an upcoming government funding bill.
- Specifically, the letter urged the enactment of Section 403 of S. 4318 and S. 3995, the Remote and Worker Relief Act of 2020.
- Protections to prevent utility disconnections will end in 36 states between now and October 1, according to a new report by Carbon Switch. This would mean about 76M households and 9.5M unemployed people are at risk of losing basic utilities. As a reminder, many states issued moratoriums on utility disconnections in March, April, and May, and extended those moratoriums throughout the summer, which provided millions of Americans relief amid concerns they would be unable to pay their utility bills.
- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s (D) proposed fiscal year 2021 budget would cut more than $70M in state aid to NJ Transit. This decrease in funding illustrates that states are struggling to provide funding for public services, such as transit, as revenues continue to be heavily affected by the pandemic.
- Travel spending in the U.S. for the week ending on August 22 was around $13B, a 44% drop from 2019 levels. Since the start of March, COVID-19 has resulted in more than $350B in losses for the U.S. travel sector and nearly $45B in federal, state, and local tax revenue losses.
- Several U.S. companies (including Microsoft, Salesforce, Clif Bar, Timberland, Mastercard and Bank of America), cities (Detroit and Dallas), and non-profits (Arbor Day Foundation and the National Forest Foundation) launched the American chapter of the One Trillion Tree Initiative, a joint venture with the United Nations and World Economic Forum to help plant 1T trees worldwide by 2030. The U.S. group hopes to plant 855M trees by 2030, which would cover more than 2.7M acres. This initiative is reported to have been spurred by the REPLANT Act, H.R. 7843, which would increase funds for reforestation efforts in the U.S. and has bipartisan support in the House.
- The Public Utilities Commission of California announced the approval of Southern California Edison’s $436M program, Charge Ready 2, to build nearly 38K light-duty electric vehicle (EV) charge ports, the largest single utility EV infrastructure initiative in the country. Of the 38K ports, 50% must be placed in “disadvantaged” communities and 30% must be near multi-family buildings.
- Data analytics firm NETSCOUT reported that there were more than 1,750 cyberattacks against utility companies in the U.S. between June 15 and August 21.
- Phil Hogan announced that he has resigned as European Union Trade Commissioner in the wake of attending a golfing dinner in Ireland which might have breached local COVID-19 restrictions. European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis will serve as Trade Commissioner in an interim capacity.
- Kevin Mayer resigned from his role as CEO of TikTok. In an interview, a TikTok spokesperson indirectly cited the Trump Administration’s recent scrutiny of the company, and Mayer’s unwillingness to engage, as a reason for his resignation.
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will resign from office due to health reasons, according to published reports.
Federal Register Notices
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) updated its interim final rules on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The notices can be found here and here.
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued 13 exemptions in response to requests from 12 licensees. The exemptions allow these licensees temporary relief from certain requirements under NRC regulations. The exemptions are in response to COVID-19. The notice can be found here.
- The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), within the Department of Commerce, announced that it amended the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) by adding sixty entities, under a total of sixty-one entries, to the Entity List. These sixty entities have been determined by the U.S. Government to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. These entities will be listed on the Entity List under the destinations of the People’s Republic of China (China), France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The notice can be found here.
- BIS also announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) where they are seeking comment on a new proposal to identify “foundational technologies” that are vital to U.S. national security and should be subject to export controls. The notice can be found here.
- The International Trade Administration, within the Department of Commerce, announced that it is seeking applications from travel and tourism leaders from specific industries for membership on the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Travel Promotion (doing business as Brand USA). All applications must be received by the close of business on September 11. The notice can be found here.
- The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they are seeking comments from the public on the effectiveness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during COVID-19. Comments are due October 26. The notice can be found here.
- The Department of Defense (DoD), General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that they are issuing a second interim rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to require an offeror to represent annually, after conducting a reasonable inquiry, whether it uses covered telecommunications equipment or services, or any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services. The notice can be found here.
- The DoD, GSA, and NASA announced that a Small Entity Compliance Guide has been prepared, which consists of a summary of the rule appearing in Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC) 2020-09. The notice can be found here.
- The DoD, GSA, and NASA announced a summary of the FAR rule agreed to by the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council. The notice can be found here.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a request for comment approval to renew the information collection request titled “Licensing Applications for Motor Carrier Operating Authority,” OMB Control No. 2126-0016. Comments must be received on or before October 27. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC announced a new rule to improve its wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) location accuracy rules by enabling 911 call centers and first responders to more accurately identify the floor level for wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings. The rule will be effective September 28. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a final summary of the procedures for the upcoming auction of 3.7 GHz Service Licenses in the 3.7-3.98 GHz Band. Applications to participate in Auction 107 must be submitted prior to 6:00pm ET on September 22. Upfront payments for Auction 107 must be received by 6:00pm ET on November 2. Bidding in Auction 107 is scheduled to begin on December 8. The notice can be found here.
- The U.S. Coast Guard announced that the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee teleconference meeting scheduled for August 26 and announced in the Federal Register on July 28 has been rescheduled to September 30, from 10:00am to 2:30pm ET. The notice can be found here.