Overnight Regulation: Regulators kill Perry plan to help coal, nuke plants | Senate Dems to force net neutrality vote | Maine senators oppose offshore drilling plan | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm

Overnight Regulation: Regulators kill Perry plan to help coal, nuke plants | Senate Dems to force net neutrality vote | Maine senators oppose offshore drilling plan | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm
© Camille Fine

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Monday evening and both the House and Senate are both back in session after a slow start to 2018. And they have a lot to work on in the coming weeks: immigration, spending, children's health, and the debt ceiling, just to name a few.


THE BIG STORY: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday rejected Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Trump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats MORE's proposal to prop up coal and nuclear power plants.

In a unanimous order, the five-person commission said Perry and supporters of the proposal failed to show that current electricity markets are not just or reasonable, findings necessary to mandate the higher electricity payments Perry sought.


"Neither the Proposed Rule nor the record in this proceeding has satisfied the threshold statutory requirement of demonstrating that the [grid] tariffs are unjust and unreasonable," the commission wrote.

Background... Perry's proposal would have required certain grid operators to pay power producers for their costs plus a reasonable profit, if the power plant at issue has at least 90 days of fuel on site -- a standard only coal and nuclear could meet.

Supporters said coal and nuclear plant closures, which have been increasing in recent years due to cheap competition and regulations, threatened to make the electric grid less resilient and more prone to blackouts. Critics called it a political move to boost power sources the administration favors.

Winners, losers... The rejection is a major victory for natural gas, wind, solar and other industries that compete with coal and nuclear. They joined with conservative activists, environmentalists, grid experts, and big businesses to oppose the proposal.

But in a concession to coal and nuclear, FERC will formally ask electric grid operators what they are doing, if anything, to ensure their grids remain resilient, which was the goal of Perry's plan.

React... Perry said his proposal was intended to spark debate on a critical issue.

"As intended, my proposal initiated a national debate on the resiliency of our electric system," he said in a statement.

Timothy Cama has more here.



The Senate Finance Committee holds a nomination hearing for Alex Azar, President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Senate Banking Committee discusses efforts to combat money laundering and ways to strengthen the Bank Secrecy Act.

A House Financial Services subcommittee holds a hearing on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., titled "Evaluating CFIUS: Challenges posed by a changing global economy."

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing on modernizing the Department of Energy.

A House Financial Services subcommittee holds a hearing on "legislative proposals for a more efficient federal financial regulatory regime."

The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on legislation to lock in President Trump's move to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.



Tech: A Senate bill that would reverse the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to repeal net neutrality received its 30th co-sponsor on Monday, ensuring Democrats can force a vote on the Senate floor.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview MORE (D-Mo.) announced her support for the bill on Twitter, putting it over the top of a procedural requirement to bypass committee approval.

The bill, which is being pushed by Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHouse Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion Biden can make history on nuclear arms reductions Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.), would use Congress's authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to reverse the FCC's rollback of its popular net neutrality rules.

"Republicans are faced with a choice -- be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit," Markey said in a statement.

With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, the bill faces long odds, but Dems see a political edge in forcing GOP lawmakers to take a stand on net neutrality, which polls find popular with voters.

The Hill's Harper Neidig has the story here.


Also on the net neutrality front... Nebraska has become the first red state where lawmakers have introduced legislation to save the Obama-era internet rules. Ali Breland has the story.


Energy: Maine Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (R) and Angus KingAngus KingNew US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Schumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks MORE (I) on Monday expressed opposition to the Trump administration's plan to expand areas available for offshore drilling, citing environmental and economic concerns. 

"We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine's fisheries and other coastal resources," the senators wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview Overnight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff MORE

"So many of our key industries, from tourism and recreation to fishing, rely on healthy oceans. A single mistake could change that forever, rob our state of a key resource and permanently harm people across Maine," King added on Twitter. "The risk of a catastrophe far outweighs any benefits."

The Trump administration said last week it is proposing significantly expanding areas available for offshore oil and natural gas drilling, including areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Brett Samuels has more here.


Finance: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday halted trading of shares of a Chinese blockchain technology company.

The SEC froze the purchase and sale of shares of UBI Blockchain Internet, a Chinese company that advertises blockchain programs and services. Blockchain is the distributed ledger system that serves as the foundation for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

The SEC said it froze trading of UBI shares because of potentially inaccurate information the company filed in its disclosures to the agency and "recent, unusual and unexplained market activity" around UBI stock since November.

The trading suspension spans from 9:30 a.m. on Monday through 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 22.

Regulators have boosted their oversight of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology companies as they attract more attention from the mainstream financial world.

Read Sylvan Lane's story here.


Finance: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats reintroduce bill to block US from using nuclear weapons first CEO who gave employees K minimum wage says revenue tripled 6 years later Forgiving K in school loans would free 36 million student borrowers from debt: data MORE (D-Mass.) accused the acting director of the consumer bureau of using concerns about cybersecurity to sabotage the agency's oversight of the financial sector.

Warren, in a letter released Monday, said acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE had been "hobbling the agency" by suspending data collection.

"I fear that the freeze in data collection has in practice fundamentally changed how the CFPB interacts with its regulated entities," wrote Warren to Mulvaney, also the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and deputy director Leandra English on Jan. 4.

President Trump appointed Mulvaney as the CFPB's temporary head in November after former Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayWill the Biden CFPB clamp down on innovation and regulatory sandboxes? Biden picks for financial agencies offer preview of regulatory agenda Biden's Wall Street watchdog picks to offer clues on regulations MORE resigned to run for Ohio governor.

Mulvaney, a fierce critic of the CFPB, ordered employees to stop collecting consumer data in December, citing reports from the CFPB inspector general highlighting cybersecurity concerns. Conservatives have long opposed the CFPB's collection of personally identifiable information from banks and financial services companies.

Sylvan Lane explains here.


Transportation: The Department of Transportation (DOT) is teaming up with the popular navigation app Waze on a new initiative designed to make the nation's roads safer, the agency announced Monday.

The DOT is launching two pilot projects that are aimed at integrating traditional crash data with crowd-sourced traffic data that can be more quickly collected and analyzed.

The goal of the new approach is to gain better insight into how to decrease fatalities on U.S. roads, which have been climbing at historic rates in recent years.

"Advances in data science have the potential to transform the Department's approach to safety research and provide insights that can help improve highway safety," Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Gingrich on Trump-McConnell feud: GOP 'better off' focusing on Democrats Trump rips McConnell in speech to Republicans MORE said in a statement.

Melanie Zanona has the details here.


Health care: The Trump administration is turning to regulations as their last, best hope of chipping away at ObamaCare in 2018, with congressional Republicans unlikely to pass full repeal.

A proposed rule released last week targeting the health law is likely the first step in a new effort to undermine the law. And advocates for ObamaCare worry that another forthcoming rule could cause even more damage.

The administration on Thursday eased rules on small businesses that band together to buy health insurance through what are known as association health plans (AHPs).

A second proposed rule on short-term insurance plans, yet to be unveiled, could have an even greater impact, with much broader exemptions from ObamaCare.

Read Nathaniel Weixel's story here.


Courts: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear two cases challenging a Mississippi law that allows businesses and government employees to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.

The court's refusal to hear the case leaves intact the law, known as H.B. 1523, that says the state government will not take any discriminatory action against persons who don't believe in same-sex marriage, homosexuality and transgenderism.

LGBT rights groups called the law the "worst in the nation" and the Supreme Court's decision a "missed opportunity."

Lydia Wheeler explains the case here.


Workplace safety: There are fewer workplace safety inspectors under the Trump administration, according to new data obtained by NBC News.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lost 40 inspectors through attrition since Trump took office, information the outlet received through a Freedom of Information Act request shows, and vacancies remained unfilled as of last Oct. 2.

The decline accounts for 4 percent of OSHA's total federal inspection force, which was under 1,000 in early October, the report said.

Tasked with assuring health and safety of American workers, OSHA relies on its workplace inspectors to find safety violations and flag hazardous working conditions.

The Labor Department, though, told NBC News that OSHA has hired "several additional inspectors" and is currently recruiting over two dozen more.

Read more from Lydia Wheeler here.


Energy: The Supreme Court Monday declined to hear a coal mining company's appeal that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must regularly report on the impact to coal jobs from its regulations.

Murray Energy Corp.'s case was one of dozens the court declined to hear without any explanation.

The rejection means that the previous ruling stands. The Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the EPA does not have to regularly produce the jobs reports.

Murray Energy is headed by Bob Murray, an outspoken coal mogul and frequent litigant against the Obama EPA and others he has perceived as anti-coal, as well as a strong supporter of President Trump.

The case started under the Obama administration, amid industry and Republican accusations the administration was killing thousands of jobs with its environmental rules.

Timothy Cama has the details.


Taxes: The top Democrats on Congress's tax-writing committees are concerned the Trump administration may pressure the IRS to produce withholding tables that would benefit Republicans politically but ultimately cause people to owe taxes next year.

In a letter to acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter on Monday, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump lawyers argue NY tax return law no longer applies to him Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support MORE (D-Mass.) said they are worried that the Treasury Department "may unduly influence the new withholding tables for the 2018 tax year in a manner that will result in millions of taxpayers receiving larger after-tax paychecks this election year but ultimately owing federal income tax when they file in 2019."

The IRS is expected to release guidance this month on tax withholdings from employee's paychecks that reflect the new tax law President Trump signed last month.

Naomi Jagoda explains the tax controversy here.


Tech: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote later this month on a proposal to enhance wireless emergency alert systems following a string of natural disasters.

The agency has not released details on the proposed rules, but Chairman Ajit Pai said providers who participate in the FCC's Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program will be required to "deliver alerts in a more geographically targeted manner."

"This would encourage more local officials to use these alerts during emergencies as well as lead Americans to take more seriously the alerts they receive on their mobile devices," Pai said in a statement.

Harper Neidig has the details here.


Energy: A Department of Energy (DOE) nominee who co-wrote a piece in 1993 objecting to gay troops in the military withdrew from consideration on Sunday.

David Jonas, who President Trump tapped last year to be DOE's general counsel, wrote on his personal LinkedIn page that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.

"In considering the additional months that would be required for final confirmation, as well as my professional responsibilities at FH+H Law Firm, I respectfully and regretfully requested that my nomination be withdrawn from consideration," Jonas said.

Jonas told The Hill that he requested his nomination be pulled last week.

Timothy Cama has the story.



Crytocurrencies are selling off (Bloomberg)

Trump eyes regulation cuts, high-speed internet to help rural farmers (Washington Times)

Is overregulation really holding back the US economy? (Harvard Business Review)

Utah wants clarity on regulatory say over pipeline project (Associated Press)

GoPro to exit drone business, cites regulatory concerns (ZDNet)

VTech to settle charges it violated children's privacy (Reuters)