Picked From the Branch

This week in Washington (relevant to our readers’ industries)

Since 2017 began (and especially since Jaunary 20) there’s been enough activity in our nation’s capital each week to fill blog posts for an entire year. Without making this a regular thing, here’s some selections relevant to our readers’ industries.

FERC chair resigns. Norman Bay, who served as Chair of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) since 2015, resigned January 26, after learning the new administration was already bringing in his replacement.

Bay’s tenure was marked by intensified enforcement and victories in the Supreme Court, but the big impact here comes from the fact that FERC’s future hangs in the balance, as it now only has two active members. Cheryl LaFleur was appointed as acting chair, elevated to Bay’s position before his term was up. Bay could have stayed on the commission as a regular member, but his full departure leaves the commission one member short.

Developments are being fielded on the fly. Bay’s term doesn’t officially end until February 3 (tomorrow), a key date for any indications of what’s next. If a replacement is not named before Bay steps down, FERC will not have enough commissioners to operate a quorum. Quorum (which decides approvals for contested issues including electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and utility plans) for the five-person commission is three, and after Feb. 3 only two regulators would remain—LeFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable, whose term expires in June. Any new member nominated must go through Senate confirmation, which could take up to four months.

DOL increases posting penalties. For the second time in six months, the DOL has increased the civil monetary penalties for violating federal minimum wage, overtime, posting and safety requirements. The increases apply to penalties assessed after January 13 for FLSA, FMLA and OSHAct violations occurring after November 2, 2015. By the numbers:

FLSA violations increase to $1,925 per violation (formerly $1,894)

FMLA posting penalties are now at $166 for each separate offense, up from $163 (note: covered employers must post this general notice even if no employees are eligible for FMLA leave)

OSHAct posting penalties rise to $12,675 per violation from $12,471

Employer Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Notice penalties up to $112 per day per violation (formerly $110)

SBCs: Failure to provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) is subject to a penalty of up to $1,105 per failure (formerly $1,087)

Form 5500. Failure or refusal to file an annual report (Form 5500) with the DOL is subject to a penalty of up to $2,097 per day (formerly $2,063)

The increase is labeled a Final Rule. Here’s the text directly from the document, released January 18th:

“The U.S. Department of Labor (Department) is publishing this final rule to adjust for inflation the civil monetary penalties assessed or enforced in its regulations, pursuant to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (Inflation Adjustment Act). The Inflation Adjustment Act requires the Department to annually adjust its civil money penalty levels for inflation no later than January 15 of each year. The Inflation Adjustment Act provides that agencies shall adjust civil monetary penalties notwithstanding Section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Additionally, the Inflation Adjustment Act provides a cost-of-living formula for adjustment of the civil penalties. Accordingly, this final rule sets forth the Department’s 2017 annual adjustments for inflation to its civil monetary penalties, effective January 13, 2017.”

Canada tightens efficiency standards. Canada is adopting more stringent energy efficiency standards for products such as microwave ovens, electric motors and walk-in coolers and freezers to align them with U.S. rules, where the electric motor market in general is becoming more standardized.

The regulatory changes impose new efficiency standards for 20 categories of products, but their implementation will be delayed for six months to meet industry requests for additional time to transition to U.S. standards that are already in effect, Peter Menyasz of Bloomberg PMA reported.

Final amendments to the Energy Efficiency Regulations set minimum energy performance standards, test procedures and information requirements for the products, as well as specific dates for their adoption that align with those in the U.S., the Canadian government said Dec. 28.

The changes follow on the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative to align energy standards between the two countries, as only about 50 percent of standards previously matched across the border, with U.S. standards generally tighter, it said. In June, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. agreed to align 10 energy efficiency standards across North America by 2019.

The amendments are scheduled to take effect June 28, 2017.



  1. Coalescence at FERC? | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - August 17, 2017

    […] appointments of Chatterjee and Robert Powelson, another commissioner, restored the quorum that the agency had lacked to be able to function for the last six months. He said the backlog of work at the commission has created a lot of “consternation” […]

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