Overnight Regulation: Web, broadband companies sound off on net neutrality | Elon Musk calls for regs on artificial intelligence | EPA to keep key pollution standard

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Monday evening, and Congress is racing toward its August recess but they still have a long to-do list to complete first.

 

THE BIG STORY: A trade group, representing web giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, urged the FCC on Monday to preserve its net neutrality rules, which are currently under threat from the agency's Republican leadership.

In a filing to the FCC on Monday, the Internet Association argued that the regulations have helped the internet thrive.

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"Since its inception, the internet has been governed by principles of openness and non-discrimination, and as a result, it has created unprecedented benefits for society and consumers," the trade group wrote.

Monday was the last day to file comments in the initial public comment period on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's plans to roll back the rules.

Read more here

 

But telecom companies also made their case.

Comcast, AT&T and trade associations representing the telecommunications industry filed statements in support of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal to scrap the net neutrality rules the agency approved in 2015.

Those companies argue that the FCC's regulations are too strict because of the Title II provision, which grants the agency regulatory oversight of broadband companies. Instead, they would like to see regulatory powers returned to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TUESDAY 

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee will consider the fiscal 2018 FDA and energy bills.

The House Budget Committee is expected to release its 2018 Budget Resolution, with a mark up slated for Wednesday.

The House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing titled: "The Cost of Being a Public Company in Light of Sarbanes-Oxley and the Federalization of Corporate Governance" at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building.

The Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness hosts a discussion on the Consumer Finance Protection Board's anti-arbitration rule at 8:30 a.m.

The Brookings Institution is holding its 6th annual Municipal Finance Conference. The event began on Monday.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry will speak on global energy security at the National Press Club at 8:45 a.m.

 

REG ROUNDUP 

Energy: A draft version of a Department of Energy study into the electric grid blames decreasing demand and low gas prices -- but not renewable power or government regulations -- for the retirement of traditional power plants.

The study says renewable power and regulations "played minor roles" in the retirement of baseload power plants, traditionally coal and nuclear facilities that supply large amounts of electricity.

Instead, electricity grid changes have been driven by a "long-standing drop in electricity demand relative to previous expectations and years of low electric prices driven by high natural gas availability," according to a June 26 draft version of the report released Monday by ThinkProgress.

The study is expected to change before the Energy Department formally issues its final version, which may become public this month.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry mandated the study in April and has said its goal is to ensure the grid provides reliable electricity despite government incentives for renewable power. The draft study's conclusions would, in a way, undercut Trump administration rhetoric about the impact of regulations and renewable power on electricity availability.

Read more here.

 

Tech: Tesla CEO Elon Musk is calling for regulation of artificial intelligence (AI), arguing that "by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it's too late."

At the U.S. National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, R.I., Musk said that the government's current framework for regulation would be dangerous with AI because of the risk it poses to humanity.

"Normally, the way regulations are set up is when a bunch of bad things happen, there's a public outcry, and after many years a regulatory agency is set up to regulate that industry," reports the Guardian.

"It takes forever. That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization," Musk continued.

Read more here

 

Voting: President Trump's embattled voter fraud commission on Monday urged a federal court not to block it from collecting state data on registered voters.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was responding to a motion from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The privacy group asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month for a temporary restraining order to stop the commission from collecting state voter roll data.

EPIC claims the commission violated the E-Government Act of 2002 and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in asking all 50 states and D.C. for voters' full names and addresses, political party registration and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

But the president's commission, created to probe his claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election, hit back in court, arguing those laws did not apply to it. 

Lydia Wheeler has the story here.

 

Finance: Hundreds of thousands of taxpayers and groups sent recommendations on tax reform to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTrump triggers storm with transgender ban Kerry on Trump’s military transgender ban: ‘We’re better than this’ White House on the defensive over Trump’s transgender military ban MORE (R-Utah) after he called for feedback from stakeholders, a committee spokesperson said Monday.

"The Senate Finance Committee received hundreds of thousands of submissions from a broad cross section of citizens and stakeholders offering a variety of ideas and proposals on how to reform the nation's broken tax code," the spokesperson said. "Each submission will be considered as the committee moves forward with its current tax reform efforts."

Hatch and other Republicans are hoping to pass tax-reform legislation this year. The Utah Republican is one of six lawmakers and administration officials who meet regularly to work on a tax framework that the White House, House and Senate can all support. He has also tasked GOP members of the Finance Committee to provide input on specific areas of the tax code.

Read more here.

 

Labor: Google does not have to hand over some of the data the Labor Department requested in a probe investigation into whether the internet search giant engaged in gender pay discrimination, a judge has ruled.

The Labor Department had sued Google for extensive job and salary history and other data after it said it found "systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce."

Judge Steve Berlin said in a decision on Friday that the agency's request was too broad and raised privacy concerns. He did, however, order Google to partially comply with Labor's request by providing a much narrower scope of data.

Read more here.

 

Environment: The Trump administration says the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for nitrogen dioxide pollution concentrations should stay in place.

The agency said it has completed a scientific review of the nitrogen dioxide standard from 2010 and determined that it is sufficiently protective of public health.

The EPA released a formal proposal Monday to keep the current limits in place. It will take public comments on the proposal before making it final.

Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant from burning fossil fuels and comes primarily from vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities. Inhaling it can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

The current limit for nitrogen dioxide concentrations in ambient air are 53 parts per billion averaged over a year and a maximum 100 parts per billion for a one-hour period.

Stricter limits would mandate that states and localities find ways to reduce pollution, like limiting development.

Read more here.

 

Law enforcement: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is defending his boss's decision to crack down on drug crimes.

In an op-ed for San Francisco Chronicle late last week, Rosenstein said Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsGOP senator warns Trump: Panel won't take up attorney general nominee this year Trump discussing attorney general recess appointment with advisers: report Scaramucci promises more 'dramatic steps' on ousting White House leakers MORE has ordered federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious crimes possible to reduce crime.

"It does not aim to fill prisons with low-level drug offenders," he wrote of the new policy. "It empowers prosecutors to help save lives."

The memo Sessions sent in May instructed federal prosecutors to "pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" that by definition "carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums."

The orders represented a drastic shift from those given under the Obama administration, but Rosenstein argued they were in no way new.

Read more here.

 

Mergers: The government's review of the AT&T-Time Warner merger is not going as smoothly as the companies hoped.

The $85 billion deal is widely expected to be approved by the Justice Department, but it is running into a number of political road bumps unusual even for controversial mega-mergers.

The deal would see AT&T, one of the nation's telecom giants, buy entertainment powerhouse Time Warner.

AT&T's headaches include President Trump's public disdain for Time Warner's CNN and his opposition to the merger on the campaign trail. Trump's antitrust chief, who is key to approving the deal, is also stuck in a long backlog of nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. And Democrats are probing for any sign of political interference following a New York Times report that said the White House is threatening to use the deal as leverage over CNN.

Read more here

 

Environment: An environmental group has launched a $1 million ad buy to pressure vulnerable Republicans on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget.

The ad campaign highlights local public health work undertaken by the EPA and contends the agency's efforts would be curtailed if the Trump administration's proposed 31 percent funding cut for the agency takes effect.

The television, radio and online ads will run in 10 GOP-held House districts and in Washington, D.C., through early September. EDF Action, the political arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, is the group behind the ads.

"These new cuts would mean more toxic mercury, smog, and carbon pollution in our air and water," EDF Action President Elizabeth Thompson said in a statement.

Read more here.

To view one of the ads, click here.

 

ALSO IN THE NEWS 

Yellen treads carefully on regulatory issues in Senate panel appearance (The New York Times)

Five takeaways from China's weekend meeting on financial regulation (Bloomberg)

Dem wants hearing on Amazon's bid for Whole Foods (The Hill)

Federal court rejects challenge to secret government data requests (The Hill)

 

Send tips, story ideas and compliments to nelis@thehill.com and follow me on Twitter @NivElis.