Desmarie Waterhouse, the American Public Power Association’s Vice President, Government Relations & Counsel, and other APPA government relations staff on June 8 provided a detailed overview of public power’s legislative priorities including assistance for utilities related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They made their remarks during a session on the first day of APPA’s Public Power Connect Virtual Summit and Business Meeting.
Funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) remains front and center for APPA in terms of legislative priorities, noted John Godfrey, Senior Government Relations Director.
“Possibly one of the single most important priorities – at least directly related to COVID – would be LIHEAP funding,” Godfrey said. APPA will make a concerted push for additional LIHEAP funding.
At the same time, he said that strong May jobs numbers may diminish the pressure on Congress to pursue another COVID-19 bill.
However, Godfrey pointed out that when it comes to LIHEAP, additional funding could be pursued through the appropriations process on Capitol Hill. “LIHEAP will definitely be something we’re pushing, probably more vocally than we typically do in the past,” he said.
In late March, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measure will provide $2 trillion in financial assistance in response to the pandemic. Among other things, the CARES Act provides $900 million for LIHEAP, which comes in addition to the $3.74 billion already appropriated for the account for fiscal year 2020.
Meanwhile, Waterhouse noted that APPA is working with congressional staff on language related to direct aid in hopes of getting it into the next COVID-related bill. The situation remains fluid at this point in time.
“In our discussions with congressional staff, we are now looking at getting something placed into the next COVID-19 bill that would create a forgivable loan program for public power utilities,” she noted.
With respect to tax-related provisions, “the expectation is that at some point, COVID bills will move from response to recovery and in doing so, we think that a number of tax provisions would be helpful,” Godfrey said.
“One would be to reinstate the ability to issue tax-exempt advanced refunding bonds,” he said.
Also, APPA would like to see Congress take action related to the small issuer exception, Godfrey noted.
In March, Joy Ditto, President and CEO of APPA, sent a letter to leaders of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees in which she made the case for increasing the annual threshold for the small issuer exception.
H.R. 3967, the Municipal Bond Market Support Act, would increase the small issuer threshold from $10 million in issuances to $30 million (indexed to inflation). This will make such debt more attractive as an investment by banks – historically smaller local banks – and provide smaller issuers with access to capital that would not otherwise exist and/or reduce the cost of borrowing by increasing competition for debt of these utilities. APPA strongly supports this bipartisan legislation, Ditto noted.
Meanwhile, Amy Thomas, Senior Government Relations Director, is tracking the Water Resources Development Act, which is a bi-annual piece of legislation that is the main vehicle for authorizing Army Corps of Engineer projects.
APPA monitors the development and enactment of this bill because changes to Corps projects and policies can impact power marketing administration and federal hydropower customers, she noted.
She is also tracking the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill that authorizes appropriations and sets policy for the Department of Defense.
APPA keeps close tabs on this bill because it is a must pass bill, which means that non-defense items can be included in the measure.
The bill can also be a vehicle for addressing matters related to cybersecurity, Thomas noted.
In terms of infrastructure legislation, Sarah Czufin, APPA Government Relations Director, noted that Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently released legislation to reauthorize the current surface transportation bill.
The legislation includes funding for a grant program supported by the American Public Power Association to deploy electric and hydrogen vehicle charging infrastructure.
On the Senate side, the Energy and Commerce Committee “has their LIFT America Act, which is a really broad infrastructure bill. So that’s everything from health care, drinking water, broadband and an entire title devoted to clean energy infrastructure.”