June 26, 2019

Washington Wire: Senate Confirms U.S. Trade Representative


Senate Confirms U.S. Trade Representative  

Last week, after numerous delays, the Senate confirmed President Trump’s pick, Robert Lighthizer, as U.S. Trade Representative. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is accountable for advancing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy, as well as supervising negotiations with other countries.  
Now that Lighthizer is a confirmed actor on NAFTA, reform is expected to pick up as meetings take place with the House and Senate trade working groups as required under law. In these meetings, Lighthizer is expected to discuss a second draft of the administration’s notice to Congress on the renegotiation of NAFTA. The official notice will trigger a 90-day internal review process of NAFTA priorities and receive input from stakeholders such as One Voice members. Lighthizer served as one of the most prominent attorneys in Washington representing domestic steel companies in trade cases and disputes in favor of imposing duties on imports. Any One Voice members who are willing to provide input on their positive and negative experiences with NAFTA, including recommendations for improvement, should contact info@metalworkingadvocate.org.



Trump Administration Begins Rewrite Process of Waters of the U.S. Rule
The U.S. EPA is officially moving forward with a rewrite of the One Voice opposed Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS), that expands EPA’s authority over inland waterways from roughly 3 million miles to over 8 million. The Obama Administration finalized a rule that may consider industrial ditches as “tributaries,” leading to costly maintenance activities, and expensive and time-consuming dredge and fill permits. The change also affected storm water retention ponds, fire ponds, and on-site impoundments, leading to point source discharge and other permit requirements. The rule opened up thousands of manufacturers, farmers, and other businesses to citizen group lawsuits and lengthy environmental reviews – the median cost for some of these permits is $155,000.  
Viewing the rule as an undue burden on small business and farmers, President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to abandon and replace the rule. Recently, the EPA sent its proposed rule, “Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ – Recodification of Preexisting Rules” for mandatory White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) policy review. This is an important first step in replacing WOTUS by narrowing the jurisdiction of the EPA under the Clean Water Act. A final replacement for WOTUS should be finalized by the end of the year. Notably, this is the first major regulation to formally go through the federal government’s rulemaking process under the new administration.



Victory in OSHA’s New Third Party Walkthrough Policy
In a significant victory for One Voice members, on April 25, 2017, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a statement overturning an Obama-era Letter of Interpretation supported by national unions allowing third parties to attend OSHA inspection walk-throughs. The original 2013 OSHA letter stated that a union official may act as the employee representative during an OSHA walk-through at a non-union plant, representing a shift from the traditional definition of “employee representative.” This position made the OSHA inspection process more problematic and troublesome for the employer, as well as allowing union organizers an important means of access during an organizing campaign.  
One Voice members are still advised to consult their counsel or contact NTMA or PMA for advice upon OSHA inspection requests. This action does represent a major victory as many employees raised concerns over allowing a third party not duly selected to represent their interests speaking on their behalf and disrupting operations and the employer-employee relationship.



U.S. House Launches Tax Reform Hearings
The House Ways and Means Committee will conduct its first major hearing of 2017 on tax reform on Thursday, May 18 at 10 a.m. (EST). The hearing will concentrate on "how tax reform will grow our economy and create jobs across America." Initially, the White House had proposed moving a proposal by August; however, delays resulting from the health care legislation likely will delay a comprehensive outline until later in the year. In April, the Trump Administration released a brief one-page overview of their tax reform priorities, including lowering the current rate for pass-throughs and C-Corporations to 15 percent. The House proposal released in June 2016 includes several proposals endorsed by One Voice, including 100 percent business expensing. The Senate Finance Committee is currently holding internal meetings to explore their own tax reform options, including ways to recoup federal tax revenue lost resulting from lower income tax rates.