In a series of prior blog posts, we previously highlighted the historic implications of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for the U.S.’s international climate commitments, as well as for private companies navigating the energy transition.  Shortly after our series published, the Senate passed the IRA on Sunday August 7th with only minor modifications to the bill’s $369 billion in climate and clean energy spending.  Today, the House passed the IRA without any further changes, and soon hereafter President Biden is expected to sign it into law. 

However, this is only the beginning of the road; the IRA will have sweeping implications beyond the four corners of its pages.  In the coming months and years, we expect to see intense jockeying over agency rulemakings that will shape the IRA’s implementation, as well as determine its ultimate success as an energy policy.  

I. Congressional Permitting Reform

As an initial matter, it seems Congress has not finished its work revamping the nation’s climate and energy laws.  As part of his agreement to support the IRA, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that “President Biden, Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have committed to advancing a suite of commonsense permitting reforms this fall that will ensure all energy infrastructure, from transmission to pipelines and export facilities, can be efficiently and responsibly built to deliver energy safely around the country and to our allies.”  While the exact contours of this legislation are not currently known, Senator Manchin’s office recently released a legislative framework, which includes proposals to, among other things:

Continue Reading House Passes Inflation Reduction Act, Marks a New Era for Climate Policy

On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.

This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.

This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:

Continue Reading EU General Court Upholds Tata Steel/thyssenkrupp JV Prohibition

On August 9, 2022, President Biden signed into law the CHIPS and Science Act—a massive, $280 billion bill to boost public and private sector investments in critical and emerging technologies.

We anticipate significant opportunities and an evolving regulatory landscape for companies, associations, universities, and others who work in various technology sectors, including:

  • High performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware/software
  • Advanced communications technology and immersive technology
  • Advanced energy and industrial efficiency technology (including batteries, nuclear)
  • Advanced materials science (including composites 2D and next-generation materials)
  • Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, and related advances
  • Quantum information science and technology
  • Biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology
  • Data storage/management, distributed ledgers, and cybersecurity (including biometrics)
  • Natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation
  • Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing

Below is an overview of the legislation and the funding and tax credit opportunities it provides for entities that participate in the research, development, production, education, or transfer of critical and emerging technologies, especially semiconductor manufacturing and research and open-RAN technology.

Overview

Headlining the bill are $54 billion in appropriations to fund the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (“CHIPS”) for America Act, which was authorized in 2021. The bill also includes $1.5 billion in appropriations for a wireless supply chain innovation fund under the Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act, which was similarly authorized in 2021. Across these two sets of appropriations, over $40 billion are allocated for direct financial assistance in the form of competitive grants for which private companies will be able to apply. The law also authorizes over $200 billion in new programs across the federal government, paving the way for additional grants, public-private partnerships, and technology transfer opportunities.

Continue Reading Significant Funding and Tax Credit Opportunities in the CHIPS and Science Act

It was a Republican President who inaugurated America’s openness to China 50 years ago, but it is Republicans in Congress who seem poised to begin closing the door. With the likelihood of a Republican takeover of the House and possibly the Senate in November, American businesses should prepare for a raft of anti-China measures that are likely to pass the House in the new Congress.

House Republican Leadership intends to include China decoupling legislation among its top 10 priorities in 2023. Unlike many foreign policy issues on which voters express little interest, this new decoupling fervor is being driven by Republicans’ most enthusiastic voters.

In one recent unpublished poll, almost half of Republican voters agreed that the U.S. government should prohibit American companies from doing business in China, and fewer than one-third disagreed. Three times as many Republican voters strongly agreed with this view than strongly disagreed, demonstrating that voter intensity for decoupling is high.

In a time of heightened partisanship leading into another divisive election, 26 Republican Senators sent a letter supporting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan – despite the fact that Pelosi is anathema to Republican voters. The subtext to the letter was that Republicans’ eagerness for a muscular confrontation with China trumps even election-year partisanship in some circumstances.

Continue Reading Republicans Likely to Push for Decoupling from China

Policymakers and candidates of both parties have increased their focus on how technology is changing society, including by blaming platforms and other participants in the tech ecosystem for a range of social ills even while recognizing them as significant contributors to U.S. economic success globally.  Republicans and Democrats have significant interparty—and intraparty—differences in the form of their grievances and on many of the remedial measures to combat the purported harms.  Nonetheless, the growing inclination to do more on tech has apparently driven one key congressional committee to have compromised on previously intractable issues involving data privacy.  Rules around the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence, which have attracted numerous legislative proposals in recent years, may be the next area of convergence. 

While influential members of both parties have pointed to the promise and peril of the increasing role of algorithms and artificial intelligence in American life, they have tended to raise different concerns.  Legislative proposals from Democrats have frequently focused how deployment of algorithms and artificial intelligence affects protected classes, while Republican proposals have largely, but not exclusively, been aimed at perceived unfairness in how algorithms treat Republicans and those expressing conservative views.  For instance, Republican Whip John Thune (R-SD), the former chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has sponsored the Political BIAS Emails Act (S. 4409), which would address technology companies reportedly filtering Republican campaign emails.  Meanwhile, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act (S. 3572) that, among other things, requires that “automated decision systems” be subject to an “evaluation of any differential performance associated with consumers’ race, color, sex, gender, age, disability, religion, family status, socioeconomic status, or veteran status.”

Continue Reading ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND ALGORITHMS IN THE NEXT CONGRESS

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment has published a draft new law to protect Irish critical technology and infrastructure from potentially harmful non-European foreign investment.  The Screening of Third Country Transactions Bill 2022 legislatesto curb so-called “third country” (meaning non-European Union/non-European Economic Area countries) hostile actors using ownership of, or influence over businesses and assets in the Irish state to harm Ireland’s security or public order. 

First time to screen

It will be the first time Ireland has screened investment from a non-European country with a view to halting that investment if it poses such a threat.  The draft new law responds to the EU Investment Screening Regulation (EU) 2019/452 (“Regulation” – see more in Covington blogs here and here) which allows – but does not oblige – European Union Member States to screen foreign investment for risks to their security or public order.  

EU fears

The Regulation reflected a growing concern within Europe about the purchase of strategic European companies by foreign-owned firms, those concerns now heightened as a result of Covid and, more recently, by the war in Ukraine. 

The European Commission (“EC”) guided on June 22 2021, that “(s)uch transactions may put European collective security or public order at risk, especially when foreign investors are state owned or controlled, including through financing or other means of direction…while remaining open to investment, the EU is equipped to protect its essential interests.” 

Continue Reading Ireland to screen non-European foreign investments

Gazprom reduces supplies again

Gazprom’s 27 July decision to reduce the gas it supplies through Nord Stream 1 to 33 mcm means it is now delivering just one-fifth of the pipeline’s capacity. This reduction ensures Europe will continue paying (ever higher prices) for (just enough) Russian gas in order to service its day-to-day needs, whilst leaving insufficient extra to fill storage units before the winter (in late June, the Commission mandated that EU gas storage facilities should be 80% full by 1 November).  The Gazprom reductions come against the backdrop of a historically hot summer, where consumer demand, including for air conditioning, is significantly higher than normal[i].

Ironically, given the IPPC report and COP27 at the end of the year, the major beneficiary of the Russian gas supply crunch appears to be coal: the IEA forecasts a 7% rise in global coal consumption to reach the all-time record set in 2013, with electricity demand for coal likely to increase by as much as 16%.

Continue Reading Europe’s Gas Crisis

On July 26-27, 2022, the Biden Administration hosted a two-day virtual meeting with top trade officials from the 13 other partners of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (“IPEF” or “Framework”)—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. This was the first ministerial meeting since the 13 initial participants[1] agreed on May 23, 2022 to launch “collective discussions towards future negotiations” on the Framework. The IPEF currently focuses on four “pillars”: (1) Trade; (2) Supply Chains; (3) Clean Energy, Decarbonization, and Infrastructure; and (4) Tax and Anti-Corruption. Touted as a “21st century economic arrangement designed to tackle 21st century economic challenges,” the IPEF is said to offer what Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo calls a “innovative and flexible approach,” and is “internationally designed not to be a ‘same old, same old’ traditional free trade agreement.”

The Framework’s novel approach, however, has raised a flurry of unanswered questions. Key U.S. stakeholders, for instance, have questioned the Biden Administration’s decision not to discuss tariff reductions or market access as part of the IPEF negotiations. Concerns have been raised about the enforceability of any agreements concluded among Framework partners. Potential agreements within each pillar remain largely unknown or undisclosed, even though the Framework partners have spent months engaged in a “scoping exercise” to define the components of each pillar.

This latest ministerial meeting added little clarity. No joint statement was released at the end of the meeting, suggesting that more remains to be done before formal, text-based negotiations begin. But as negotiators approach the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s announcement of the initiative at the October 2021 East Asia Summit meeting, there is growing expectation of more concrete outcomes. The dates for the next ministerial meeting have not been formally announced, though informal reports speculate that the Framework partners may hold the next meeting in September 2022, possibly as the first in-person ministerial.

This alert outlines the scope and objectives of the IPEF’s four pillars, the progress to date and next steps, key remaining questions, and stakeholder reactions thus far.

Continue Reading Biden Administration Hosts the First Indo-Pacific Economic Framework Ministerial: Updates, Outlook, and Remaining Questions

Late on July 27, Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer announced an agreement on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA): a reconciliation package that implements prescription drug pricing reform, invests in Affordable Care Act health care subsidies, imposes a corporate minimum tax and improves tax enforcement, and—most relevant for this post—provides $369 billion to support energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This package presents the opportunity for Congress to finish legislating President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, completing the story detailed in our series The ABCs of the AJP.  As we left the saga last summer, we noted that the effort to enact that agenda was Not Broken, Simply Unfinished.  Today we are updating that series to detail the following energy related elements of the IRA:

As President Biden noted July 28th, “Sometimes seem like nothing gets done in Washington . . . But the work of the government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even infuriating.  Then the hard work of hours and days and months from people who refuse to give up pays off.  History is made.  Lives are changed.”  As of this writing, these sentiments may still be premature; one key Democrat—Senator Krysten Sinema from Arizona—has yet to signal her support for the IRA.  Her endorsement will be necessary in an evenly divided Congress on what is expected to be a highly partisan vote. 

Regardless, the coming days will prove decisive for the future of U.S. energy and climate policy and we will continue to update and supplement our coverage as the bill moves through the final stages of the legislative process.

The California Privacy Protection Agency (“CPPA”) announced it will hold a special meeting on July 28, 2022 at 9 a.m. PST to discuss and potentially act on proposed federal privacy legislation, including the bipartisan American Data Protection and Privacy Act (“ADPPA”) (H.R. 8152).  The ADPPA is a comprehensive data privacy bill that advanced through the House Committee on Energy & Commerce on June 20 and may be headed to the House floor before the end of this Congress.  The ADPPA, as currently drafted, would preempt significant portions of state consumer privacy laws, including the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”).  It is notable that during the Energy & Commerce Committee’s consideration of the bill, several members of the California delegation expressed specific concerns about the legislation’s broad preemption provisions.  Although the CPPA has yet to formally take a position on the latest version of the ADPPA, CPPA staff memoranda and other related letters suggest that the CPPA will oppose federal privacy legislation that seeks to preempt the state’s comprehensive consumer privacy protections. 

The CPPA has posted the special meeting agenda and virtual attendance link.  Additional meeting materials, including staff memorandum on the issues, can be found here.  The CPPA noted that members of the public will be given the opportunity to comment.