A National Legislative Wrap-up For 2001

January 9, 2002
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According to Michael K. Blevins, director of government affairs for the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), nowhere are the world-changing events of Sept. 11 “more evident than on Capitol Hill.

“Of course, building closures, mail disruption, and unprecedented security measures resulting from anthrax contamination were the most visible signs that something was different on the Hill. But the changes in the congressional agenda were profound as well.”

Before the terrorist attacks on America, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate had acted on several issues of interest to the hvacr industry and appeared to be ready to consider more.

ERGONOMICS RULE OVERTURNED

“Congress exercised a never-before-used law in March to overturn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) new 1,688-page, $18 billion ergonomics rule issued just days before the Clinton administration left office,” stated Blevins.

The rule would have made employers liable for employee complaints aggravated — but not actually caused — by their work, he said. Also, it would have forced employers to make modifications to factory and office workstations that could have been costly.

Subsequently, President George W. Bush asked OSHA to revise its ergonomics policy and to issue a new rule, if necessary.

CLASS ACTION REFORM

“In June, the president’s $1.35 trillion across-the-board tax cut with important pension, IRA, and 401(k) changes flew through Congress at relative warp speed and was signed into law,” Blevins said.

That same month, GAMA and other trade associations and businesses worked to bring about the introduction in the House and Senate of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2001, H.R. 2341, which, he said, is designed to introduce fairness and common sense into the class action system.

The act would help reduce the number of lawsuits businesses have to face and would make it easier to transfer interstate class action lawsuits to federal courts. House hearings on the bill were scheduled for mid-September and a favorable committee vote was expected. The hearings were postponed indefinitely after the attacks.

Nonetheless, momentum was created for reform, and a Senate version of the bill was introduced in November. In addition, it was reported that curbing class action lawsuits could be a priority in the president’s efforts to revitalize the economy.

DEFEAT OF NOMINEE FOR CPSC

“July saw the defeat in the Senate Commerce Committee of Mary Sheila Gall’s nomination to the chairmanship of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Com-mission (CPSC),” added Blevins. The vote was along party lines.

A few days after the defeat of the nomination, then-current CPSC chair Ann Brown announced her resignation, effective November 1.

The White House then announced the president’s intention to nominate Harold D. Stratton, a New Mexico attorney and former state attorney general, to the chairmanship.

NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY

One of most important pieces of legislation introduced was a bill to institute a national energy policy. The House of Representatives approved its version, H.R. 4, in early August.

One provision of H.R. 4 called for the Secretary of Energy to develop and implement a public information campaign to educate the public and small-business owners on the energy savings they can realize from regularly scheduled maintenance of hvac systems. A total of $5 million was authorized to implement a campaign for fiscal years 2002 and 03.

“With experience in educational campaigns on space heaters, water heaters, and the need to replace flood-damaged hvac equipment,” stated Blevins, “GAMA persuaded House members to amend the provision, allowing the Secretary of Energy to consider using the funds to support public education campaigns sponsored by trade associations.”

A section of H.R. 4 that GAMA strongly opposed would require the Department of Energy (DOE) to specify minimum efficiency standards and testing and labeling requirements for circulating air fans installed as part of a residential furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump. Blevins pointed out that this duplicates part of DOE’s recently opened furnace rulemaking, which began in July and which is addressing, among other issues, the electrical consumption of furnace fans.

Despite the duplicative nature of the provision and likely interference with DOE’s current furnace standards rulemaking, this was approved as part of the bill.

When Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Senate Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) finally introduced the Senate’s version of an energy bill in December, the furnace fan provision of H.R. 4 was not included.

On a new issue addressed by the Senate, said Blevins, his association “lobbied against inclusion of a legislated prescriptive efficiency requirement for unit heaters. GAMA agreed to the development of appropriate standards for unit heaters through DOE rulemaking, as long as DOE standards preempt state and local regulation.” This suggestion was adopted in the Senate bill.

The Senate adjourned in late December without acting on the energy legislation.

TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY

Among legislation which did receive consideration during December was “the top trade issue for 2001 — the bill granting ‘trade promotion authority’ (TPA) to the President,” remarked Blevins.

TPA, sometimes called “fast track,” would prevent Congress from making changes in trade agreements negotiated by the President, although congressional approval would still be required. Congress would vote in a specified time, without amendments.

TPA had not been renewed since 1994. The House passed TPA on Dec. 6 by one vote and sent the bill to the Senate, where the Finance Committee approved it the following week. Full Senate approval is still required; TPA and the energy bill will be taken up in 2002.

Publication date: 01/14/2002

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