On July 10, Todd Ennenga, Director, Government Affairs, Halliburton, and PESA Government Affairs Committee Chair hosted a townhall to discuss government actions regarding the COVID crisis along with Tim Tarpley Vice President Government Affairs, PESA, and Maria Suarez, Director Government Affairs, PESA. The town hall was joined by more than 30 PESA Member Companies.
Tarpley stated that the filing deadline for participation in the Paycheck Protection Act has been extended until August 8. Last week, the Administration released a detailed report on the loans that have been granted so far with a value over $150,000. The report showed significant use by the oilfield services sector and 87% of loans were for a value less than $150,000. So far 4.9 million loans have been approved for a total of $521 billion, and there is currently $132 billion remaining in the program. Congress is expected to add additional funding when the program is likely reauthorized before it expires in August.
The federal “main street” lending program became fully operational early last week with only 90 banks signed up to participate. The program is designed for mid-size companies that are too large for the Paycheck Protection Act program. Participating banks make loans with existing clients and once the loan is made, the Federal Reserve buys 95% of the loan from the bank. Eligible companies have been slow to participate, possibly due to stock market increases since the CARES Act originally passed.
Ennenga discussed the energy-related recommendations that came from the Biden-Sanders Unity Task force and potential implications for the sector should the Administration change in November. The Task Force is calling for additional regulatory actions to limit greenhouse gas pollution. Of particular note, is the proposal to install a “climate test” on all major domestic and international infrastructure projects, which could have significant impacts to the energy industry should it be fully implemented as described in the report.
Additionally, Tarpley updated the group on recent comments made by Sen. Mitch McConnell, where he stated that he envisioned a “narrowly crafted liability protection” for commercial activities related to the novel coronavirus that would kick in December 2019 and last through 2024.
The Senator said, “Unless you’re grossly negligent or intentionally engaged in harmful behavior, you shouldn’t have to be penalized by getting sued on top of everything else, so that’ll be in there, I guarantee it.”
However, these provisions will have to be part of a bigger negotiation with the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also made comments last week indicating that she would not change in her opposition to liability language being included in the next package. The Democrats in the House are pressing for $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments, another $1 trillion for unemployment benefits and direct payments, and somewhere in the vicinity of $1 trillion for testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19. Sen. McConnell is pushing for a smaller package and has called for another direct stimulus for those making under $40,000, which is down from the $99,000 in first round. Congress is expected to finalize the details of this package at the end of July or the first week of August.
Suarez provided a state level update on selected state re-openings given the current spike in cases in the south and west. The upsurge in infections is having an impact on many states plans to reopen. Louisiana will remain in phase 2 of reopening for at least a month, New Mexico also paused next phase of reopening and enforce mask-wearing with fines, and Texas has rolled back the reopening of restaurants, as well as cancelling elective surgeries and issuing a statewide mask order.
Last week also saw significant decisions on major pipeline projects. Dominion and Duke Energy announced they would abandon plan to build Atlantic Coast Pipeline which was intended to carry Appalachian gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion cited delays associated with legal challenges as a key reason. A U.S. district court for the District of Columbia ruled that Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been operating since 2017, should be shut down by August 5. The Judge ruled that the Army Corps violated National Environmental Policy Act in the granting of the permit. Additionally, the Supreme Court upheld lower court ruling in Montana and the 9th Circuit that blocked critical steps in construction of Keystone XL.