COVID-19 Update | Wednesday, Aug. 26
August 26, 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.
- Though there has been little tangible progress on negotiations in some time, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters Wednesday morning that his staff reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to restart talks on a new relief package. He added that he does not anticipate a response from the House Speaker, predicting that it is possible a COVID-19 deal will not be reached until past the end of September and the end of the fiscal year. Meadows told the reporters that he thinks Pelosi will link action on government funding at the end of the fiscal year (September 30) to a COVID-19 deal, something that Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly indicated she wishes to avoid.
- Meadows also indicated that COVID-19 relief should be packaged with a stopgap spending bill to take a government shutdown “off the table” when federal funding expires at the end of next month.
- Meadows also noted that the White House is considering further executive action given the stalemate in negotiations, including action to preserve airline jobs from being furloughed.
- As a reminder, multiple major U.S. airlines have warned that they would implement widespread layoffs without additional support from the government. The Payroll Support Program (PSP), which was established under the CARES Act, has been popular and industry stakeholders have called for its extension. It is unclear what the Administration can do in terms of a PSP for the industry.
- Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler asking for more information on the work that the agency has done since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically focused on how the agency has enforced existing environmental policies. A press release on the letter can be found here.
- The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis released its 263-page report, “The Case for Climate Action – Building a Clean Economy for the American People.” The report details a plan to address climate change and reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050, increase federal spending on climate activities to 2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and create new jobs. A press release on the report can be found here.
- As a reminder, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis produced its own 547-page report in June.
- In a letter led by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), 87 Members of Congress, including two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Francis Rooney (R-FL), called on EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to rescind a new Administration rule which would eliminate methane protections in the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards. A press release on the letter can be found here.
- The Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis will host a hearing on September 1 at 1:00pm ET featuring Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It is unclear whether there will be additional witnesses at this time.
- Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao announced $400M in Federal funding allocation for four transit infrastructure projects in Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and New Jersey. A press release, as well as more information on the projects, can be found here.
- The New Jersey project is the Portal North Bridge Project which has been a point of contention between the Administration and Democratic lawmakers from New York and New Jersey throughout President Trump’s term.
- U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held a call with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Monday night to continue discussions on the implementation of the Phase One Deal. According to the press release from USTR, both sides have noticed progress in the talks.
- However, Chinese purchases of U.S. exports were less than half of the year-to-date target for the Phase One Deal, according to a recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economies.
- The Department of Commerce announced the addition of 24 Chinese-owned companies to the so-called Entity List for alleged roles in helping the Chinese government construct military installations and artificial islands in the South China Sea.
- The Entity List is a tool to restrict the export, re-export, and transfer (in-country) of items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to persons (individuals, organizations, or companies) reasonably believed to be involved, or to pose a significant risk of becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
- President Trump announced on Tuesday that he plans to nominate Chad Wolf to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Wolf has been serving as Acting Secretary of DHS since November 2019.
- The U.S. International Trade Commission announced on Monday it would begin to investigate the effects of the Canada-European Union trade agreement on U.S. exports of lobster to Europe.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) announced that it was able to avert its plan of furloughing 70% of its workforce, or 13K employees. USCIS has faced a major decrease in revenue due to a decrease in inbound travel during the pandemic. USCIS relies heavily on visa fees for revenue.
- The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Ronald Batory and the Chair of the Surface Transportation Board, Ann Begeman, sent a letter to the President and CEO of the BNSF Railway Company, Carl Ice, which urged the freight and rail industry to ameliorate late and canceled trains, missed industrial switches, as well as lackluster communications with shippers.
- In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Tesla, Honda, Ford, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and a slew of other companies urged the Commission to continue ahead with its anti-trust battle with Qualcomm. The letter is attached.
- As a reminder, on August 11 it was reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a lower court ruling in favor of the FTC. The appeals court found that Qualcomm’s refusal to sell its technology to companies unless they agreed to a patent license doesn’t violate U.S. antitrust law.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is expected to hire an extra 5K temporary employees to help manage the extra correspondence required due to the stimulus payments that were enacted from the CARES Act in March.
- The Interior Department will likely be sued by the native Gwich’in tribe for their decision to permit drilling the Arctic National Wildlife refuge in Alaska. In addition to the expected suit from the Gwich’in tribe, environmental groups have already filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department.
- The Federal Transit Administration announced that it will continue to host a series of listening sessions to support information sharing on how the transit industry is recovering from COVID-19. Past sessions, which are recorded, and future scheduled sessions can be found here.
- On Monday, TikTok announced that it would sue the Trump Administration for the August 6 Executive Order banning TikTok from operating in the U.S. TikTok asserted that the Administration has not adequately shown that the app poses a national security threat. The full lawsuit can be viewed here.
- The Trump Administration is extending a key deadline for healthcare providers to seek COVID-19 relief funding, with applications from providers lagging due to confusion over the rules. This is the second time the deadline has been extended. The new deadline is now September 13, giving providers over two additional weeks to apply, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- The EPA announced that it would issue an emergency exemption allowing American Airlines and Total Orthopedics Sports and Spine to use a product, SurfaceWise2, that, when applied to a surface, kills viruses like COVID-19 for up to seven days. It should be noted that this exemption only applies to operations within Texas, since the state requested an emergency exception.
- For Federal Register notices, please refer to the end of the update.
- Hurricane Laura was upgraded to a Category 4 Hurricane by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). It is expected to make landfall Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning along the Gulf of Mexico, hitting towns across southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana. The NHC has warned that storm surge could reach un-survivable levels of more than 20 feet. More than 500K people have been asked to evacuate their homes. In the context of the pandemic, serious natural disasters could lead to even worse outcomes than normal and relief efforts could be impacted by COVID-19.
- Moderna announced at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) meeting on Wednesday that its potential COVID-19 vaccine has had positive immune responses in older patients, a sign that it could potentially be an effective vaccine.
- New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is projecting more than a $12B deficit through 2021 and, as we have reported, already spent all the $4B it received in the CARES Act. As a result, the agency is considering cutting up to 40% of its service.
- At a legislative hearing in New York, MTA Chairman Pat Foye noted the dire situation that MTA would be in without federal help. Foye told state lawmakers that, compared to numbers from 2019, subway ridership is down 75%, Metro-North Railroad is down 83%, and Long Island Railroad is down 76%.
- Boeing is testing a hand-held UV wand which could disinfect the interior surfaces of an aircraft. Over the weekend, the company demonstrated how this product might function.
- The Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD) is reportedly considering using country-by-country calculations as it tries to determine an international minimum tax.
- The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit working to protect public parks and land, published a new report on outdoor learning at U.S. public schools. The report found that 36% of students attend school in a heat island — an area that is on average 1.25 degrees Fahrenheit or more above the surrounding town or city.
- New research from the Wood Mackenzie firm found that green hydrogen costs are expected to decrease by more than 60% by 2040.
- South Korea closed many of its public schools as COVID-19 has become resurgent in the country, with Tuesday being the 12th straight day of triple-digit increases in COVID-19 cases, according to the Associated Press.
- New York, New Jersey and several cities are suing the Trump Administration over recent policy changes at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The cities and states are arguing that the efforts are intended to disrupt mail-in voting ahead of the November election.
Federal Register Notices
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a final rule adopting amendments related to satellite orbital debris mitigation, to reflect the Report and Order adopted on April 23, 2020. The rule is effective September 24. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a final rule which corrected a mistake in a Federal Register from March 8, 2019 related to the FCC’s rules for telecommunications relay services. The notice can be found here.
- The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor announced that it is requesting comments concerning a proposed extension of the information collection request (ICR) titled, “Davis-Bacon Certified Payroll.” Comments must be submitted on or before October 26. The notice can be found here.
- The Transportation and Related Equipment Technical Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Industry and Security, which is a part of the Department of Commerce, announced that it will be meeting virtually on September 9 at 11:30am ET. The notice can be found here.
- The Maritime Administration within DOT, announced that it will hold a virtual meeting of the Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee (MTSNAC) to discuss advice and recommendations for the U.S. Department of Transportation on issues related to the marine transportation system. The meeting will take place September 29 from 12:30pm-4:30pm ET. The notice can be found here.
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced it will host a virtual meeting of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). The meeting will be held on September 10 from 1:00pm-5:00pm ET. The notice can be found here.
- The National Science Foundation announced that they will be holding a virtual meeting for the Advisory Committee for Cyber-Infrastructure on September 22 from 10:00am-5:30pm and September 23 from 9:30am-3:00pm (all times are ET). The notice can be found here.
- The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) announced that it launched an investigation on COVID-related industry sectors and particular products and that there will be a public hearing on this subject on September 23. The notice can be found here.
- The ITC issued a notice that they have determined that SZ DJI Technology has violated Section 337 by importing into the United States, selling for importation, or selling in the United States after importation certain unmanned aerial vehicles and components thereof that infringe claims 1 and 2 of the ‘184 patent. The notice can be found here.
- The ITC announced that it is inviting members of the public to submit comments for the April 2021 report on recent trends in U.S. services trade. Comments are due September 28. The notice can be found here.
- The EPA issued a notice of a public hearing on its proposed greenhouse gas emission standards for airplanes and airplane engines, which was published on August 20. The hearing will be held virtually on September 17. The notice can be found here.