Still in the philosophy that they should be able to control what kind of kitchen stove American citizens can use, The Department of Energy is maintaining a grip on gas cooktops regulation, although loosening them somewhat following loud public outcry.

Ostensibly in the name of energy-efficiency, DOE published efficiency requirements for gas stoves so stringent that they would have been impractical for most consumers. Following strong public push-back, the agency is slightly loosening the BTU limits after reviewing data submitted by a trade association and a utility company,

Much of the media denounced concerns from the public about the government banning gas stoves, calling them conspiracy theorists, but the agency did publish a notice calling for new regulations which would have limited BTU consumption to 1,204, down from a baseline of 1,775 British thermal units, or kBtu per year. The proposal is so impractical that for all purposes it outlaws the stoves.

More recently, in a notice of data availability published in the Federal Register, DOE floated less stringent efficiency requirements for gas stoves, increasing them slightly to a limit of 1,343 kBtu per year, down from a recalculated baseline of 1,900 kBtu per year.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and PG&E provided the DOE with data on cooktops with higher consumption rates, which the agency had not used in its initial efficiency testing.

According to POLITICO, “Other comments led DOE ‘to better understand’ what features consumers want in a gas stove, including multiple high input rate burners and continuous cast-iron grates.” 

Manufacturers would be required to spend more than $2.5 billion to comply with the originally proposed rules, according to the DOE’s own estimates, and consumers would save just 12.5 cents a month in energy costs.

The mandates would have been so strict as to make 96 percent of gas stoves on the market noncompliant.

In June the House passed the Save Our Gas Stoves Act, which would prevent the DOE from advancing its unworkable stove requirements.

The National Association of Manufacturers has held high-level discussions with policymakers on the importance of feasibility, affordability and consumer choice in rulemaking.

To that end, in June the NAM and members of the NAM’s Council of Manufacturing Associations and Conference of State Manufacturers Associations created the Manufacturers for Sensible Regulations, which aims to combat the recent regulatory onslaught by federal agencies.

“Manufacturers depend on regulatory clarity and certainty,” said NAM Managing Vice President of Policy Chris Netram. Throughout the year, the Department of Energy has proposed an unprecedented slew of regulations, and many were aimed at home appliances. The DOE is now taking steps toward a solution that is less likely to raise production costs significantly for manufacturers, and less likely to reduce the available features, performance and affordability for consumers.”

The Tax Foundation

The global tax deal is going mainstream. As Politico puts it, “the technical rules that were once solely the province of tax wonks in D.C. and Paris are being brought out into the public sphere.” Here’s what you need to know about it.

Developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and agreed to by more than 130 countries, the global tax deal would change where large multinational companies pay taxes (known as Pillar One) and create a global minimum tax (known as Pillar Two). It’s the latter making headlines.

Pillar Two would ensure that large multinational corporations pay an effective tax rate of at least 15 percent—an attempt to stop companies from moving their profits to tax havens (i.e., low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions).

Countries would have two options: they could change their domestic rules to comply with the global minimum tax or, if they don’t change their rules, other countries could tax their multinational companies to bring them up to 15 percent.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development wants to level the international tax playing field.

This is the latest iteration of the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, launched in 2013, to stop multinational corporations from gaming the international tax system. As a result of BEPS, dozens of countries (including the U.S.) tightened rules on multinationals. But the OECD believes these rules didn’t go far enough.

But the current approach wouldn’t level the playing field for two reasons.

First, the rules privilege some pre-existing policies over others. They treat refundable tax credits much more favorably than tax credits that are only available if a company has taxable income. Because many U.S. tax credits fall under the latter category, tailoring the U.S. system to the rules would cost over $100 billion.

Second, taking away one tool countries have to help businesses (taxes) doesn’t mean there aren’t others (subsidies). Countries that can spend more to support their businesses will have a leg up on countries that can’t.

Shifting income from one jurisdiction to another to reduce tax burdens is a real concern—one the U.S. acknowledged in 2017 by dramatically changing its tax rules for multinationals. The U.S. now has three minimum taxes all aimed at similar issues the OECD rules are attempting to address. However, none of the U.S. rules seem to qualify under the OECD standards.

The web of rules would be complex and there is much uncertainty, but it seems to be a losing situation for the U.S.

According to the best estimates, the U.S. Treasury is likely to lose revenue whether it adopts Pillar Two or not (if all other countries adopt the rules). Even if the U.S. complies, it is likely to lose $56.5 billion over 10 years. And if it doesn’t, that figure more than doubles to $122 billion.

The best way to avoid losing revenue is to ensure the U.S. continues to be a place where businesses want to invest and grow.

However, the global minimum tax would also undermine the U.S.’s attempts to encourage investment. For example, the federal government allows businesses to deduct research and development costs to spur innovation. But what happens if a multinational company uses that deduction and drops below the 15 percent threshold? Other countries could increase taxes on it, dampening Congress’s intended effect.

If the Treasury loses revenue to foreign governments, then taxes on domestic activity could rise to offset it.

Over the long term, if companies choose to avoid the U.S. when they’re deciding to invest, this could mean higher prices and less investment in innovation in the U.S., which means fewer of the cutting-edge products and services you enjoy and less money in your pocket.

Additionally, job opportunities and wages would likely decrease as businesses cut costs to make up for lost profits.

By Morgan Sweeney, The Center Square

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is the latest to join a coalition of attorneys general “demanding answers” from global investment firm BlackRock Inc., questioning its ability to manage funds passively.

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen is one of the AG’s leading the action, even though the Montana still remains invested with BlackRock

Since August 2022, three groups of attorneys general representing 24 states have banded together in actions challenging company practices at BlackRock – the largest asset manager in the world and the first to reach $10 trillion in assets – claiming that it has allowed political persuasions to interfere with the investment of its clients’ funds.

Last August, 19 Republican attorneys general asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate BlackRock’s relationship with China and assess whether the company used its influence to persuade advisees and investees into embracing its espoused environmental, social and governance values, otherwise called “ESG.”

They also expressed concerns that the company’s behavior didn’t align with antitrust law.

In May, 17 Republican attorneys general filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, accusing the money manager of violating the Federal Power Act and the BlackRock 2022 Order.

The motion cites that the FPA prohibits “public utility holding companies” from purchasing more than $10 million in voting securities in another “utility;” if a company wishes to do so, it must remain a “passive” and “non-controlling investor” – which, the motion claims, BlackRock is not.

This latest action, led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, involves 15 attorneys general – all Republicans – with Virginia and New Hampshire being the newest states to join efforts. It’s a letter to “BlackRock-linked mutual fund directors,” which echoes the prior accusations of personal and political entanglement with professional matters.

“The overlapping web of personal and business relationships between major mutual fund directors and BlackRock raise red flags about potential conflicts of interest, and call even further into question the misguided investment strategies done in the name of ESG,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said.

According to a release from Miyares’ office, “six of the nine mutual fund directors [in question] have a relationship with BlackRock as either a BlackRock employee or a board member of a company where BlackRock owns more than 5%.” Such conflicts of interest violate the Investment Company Act of 1940 and “state principles of independence,” according to the latest letter.

Red states have begun divesting from BlackRock.

So far, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Utah and West Virginia have all withdrawn their assets — totaling $4.8 billion — from BlackRock, according to Americans for Tax Reform.

On July 18, the Main Street Tax Certainty Act was re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Representatives Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) introduced the legislation in the House and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) previously introduced it in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would make the crucial Small Business Deduction permanent, which is currently set to expire at the end of 2025, reports the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“Passing the Main Street Tax Certainty Act would stop an enormous tax increase currently scheduled to strike small businesses at the end of 2025,” said Brad Close, NFIB President. “The 20% Small Business Deduction is set to expire in 2025, and without it, small businesses will have to limit their plans to grow, invest, and hire. By making the deduction permanent, small business owners will have the tax certainty they need to make business decisions about their future. We are encouraged that this important legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate and urge Congress to consider it.”

The 20% Small Business Deduction (Section 199A) allows pass-through small businesses the ability to deduct up to 20% of qualified business income and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2025. The Main Street Tax Certainty Act would make this critical tax deduction permanent for small business owners across the country.

“Pennsylvania small business owners thank Rep. Smucker for re-introducing this critical legislation,” said Greg Moreland, NFIB Pennsylvania State Director. “The Small Business Deduction has been a crucial tax deduction for small business owners in the Commonwealth as it has allowed owners to reinvest in their business and employees. We ask Congress to pass the Main Street Tax Certainty Act and make the Small Business Deduction permanent.”

In a recent NFIB member ballot, 91% said they support permanently extending the expiring provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act such as the 20% Small Business Deduction. Advocacy by NFIB members was instrumental in securing the 20% Small Business Deduction, and NFIB will continue advocating to have the deduction made permanent. NFIB Pennsylvania member David Cranston testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in 2018 to explain to lawmakers how the Small Business Deduction has benefited his small business. In NFIB’s 2019 tax survey, 81% of small business owners believe the Small Business Deduction is important.

According to NFIB’s 2021 tax survey, nearly half of small business owners (48%) reported the uncertainty of these expiring tax provisions is impacting their current or future business plans. Earlier this year, NFIB Pennsylvania member Warren Hudak and Georgia member Alison Couch testified before Congressional committees sharing their small business tax stories. NFIB Vice President of Federal Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman also recently testified before the U.S. House Budget Committee on how Congress can mitigate economic challenges on small businesses by making the Small Business Deduction permanent. This month, NFIB joined a coalition letter with over 160 other associations to encourage Congress to pass the Main Street Tax Certainty Act.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization, released a new video featuring small business owners explaining the impact the Credit Card Competition Act would have on their Main Street businesses if passed into law.

The Credit Card Competition Act seeks to ensure competition in the credit card processing market by allowing small businesses the freedom to choose between multiple credit card networks. Without this legislation, businesses everywhere are subjected to ever-rising interchange fees set by large credit card companies in a closed market free from competition. According to a recent NFIB member ballot, 92% of NFIB member small business owners believe that businesses should have the right to choose between multiple credit card processing networks. This legislation would help preserve their freedom of choice by injecting much-needed competition into the credit card processing market, allowing small business owners to choose the option that is best for their business.

Excerpts include:

“I think one thing people forget about all these costs and fees that they think businesses pay is that it’s the consumers who end up paying these fees. At the end of the day, if we can reduce those fees, we can stabilize costs,” said David Henrich, a small business owner from Minnesota.

“The Credit Card Competition Act, I think, would be very beneficial to our business. We just recently started accepting credit cards, and we have noticed that that ‘swipe fee’ has been very expensive for us,” said Renea Jones, a small business owner from Tennessee.

“I don’t have that free choice to go out and choose who I give my money to. It’s already taken away from me on the third of every month before I have the choice to come back and say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at this and negotiate a better rate,’” said Jeff Hastings, a small business owner from North Carolina.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released a proposed oil and gas rule that would affect how fossil fuels are leased and produced on national public lands. The rule would implement the Inflation Reduction Act’s reforms of the oil and gas leasing system.

BLM claims the proposed rule will cut down on speculative leasing in the onshore program so that rather than producing fuels, those lands can instead be managed for other uses like conservation and recreation. Finally, the rule would reform the bonding rates that oil and gas companies must post in order to ensure public lands are cleaned up when companies abandon wells.

The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Policy Director Rachael Hamby:

“Congress overhauled the oil and gas leasing system last year. Now it’s up to the Interior Department to make those reforms stick and prevent them from being undermined by future administrations. Today’s draft rule is a major step in that direction. The recent oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming shows that the industry already has more public land under lease than they know what to do with. The least they can do is give taxpayers a fair return when they lock up more acres and profit off publicly-owned resources.”

“It’s imperative that strong bonding reforms make it through the rulemaking process intact. The Interior Department just announced it will spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars cleaning up oil and gas wells abandoned by irresponsible companies. This can never happen again. Drillers must post bonds sufficient to clean up after themselves the next time an oil boom inevitably goes bust.”

Enplanements at Logan International Field in Billings increased YTD as of June, 11.81 percent, and deplanements 16.29 percent.

For the first six months of 2023, a total of 198,165 passengers flew out of Logan Field, compared to 177,231 for the first six months in 2022. Of the seven carriers United Airlines transported the lion’s share with over 58,000 passengers. Other carriers are Allegiant, American, Cape Air, Delta, Frontier and Horizon.

Air freight has declined in 2023 by about 20 percent.

Mail by air also declined. Mail on dropped by .84 percent and mail off declined 29.29 percent.

In a unanimous vote, Yellowstone County Commissioners named Marci Shafer, Billings, as the Treasurer for Yellowstone County, replacing Sherry Long who is retiring. Shafer will assume her new position on August 1.

Shafer was one of five people who applied for the position.

The appointment is the fulfillment of a goal for Shafer. Ten years ago she ran as a Republican candidate to be county treasure but was defeated by Sherry Long in the primary. Shafer in fact worked in the County Treasurer’s office prior to that — 6 years in the motor vehicle department and 7 years in the treasurer’s department.

In the interim, Shafer has remained in public service having worked for the past 7 years in the Department of Revenue’s property assessment department.

Shafer commented that she hopes the transition will go smoothly in order to maintain great public service for the taxpayers and to continue good relationship with the departments in Yellowstone County and with the Department of Revenue.

Shafer is a native of Billings, having left the city to live in Huntley a few years ago. She and her husband, Ole, of 44 years, have two children. During her spare time Shafer enjoys motorcycle trips and riding horses and most outdoor activities. 

Among the other candidates who applied for the position was Henry (Hank) Peters, who currently works in the Treasurer’s office. He was among the three the commissioners interviewed, which besides Shafer, included Katherine (Kate) Becker. The other candidates were: Tamara E. Parnell and Lorena (Rena) Rickard.

US Congressman Matt Rosendale commented to the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on their proposed Conservation and Landscape Health rule that will lock up swaths of public land for “conservation leases”.

“This rule is just another example of the Biden Administration weaponizing the government to appease radical environmentalists at the expense of the people of Montana,” said Rep. Rosendale. “This expansive rule will limit recreation, timber, grazing, and important energy development on public land. Even more consequential is the impact this will have on cattle ranching, which will require Montana ranchers to compete with coastal corporations for the limited number of available leases.

He sent the letter on June 28 to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning objecting to the proposed Conservation and Landscape Health Rule claiming the rule will negatively impact the people of Montana.

“The BLM has limited public input on this disastrous rule by only allowing five public forums in urban city centers rather than the communities that would be impacted and did not even provide concerned stakeholders with the opportunity to ask questions to federal employees. I seek to remind Secretary Haaland and the Bureau of their “multiple use” obligations and implore them to look toward the devastating impacts this will have on my state. I urge BLM to immediately withdraw this harmful rule.” said Rep. Rosendale.

The BLM’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, proposed in April, will establish conservation leases that will lock away large areas of land that could be used for outdoor recreation, grazing, timber, and energy development.

The rule, said Rep. Rosendale, is in direct violation of the Taylor Grazing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which requires a “multiple use” policy on public lands.

Changing the BLM’s multiple use mandate without the proper input from Congress or state and county governments is an unprecedented power grab, he said. It will empower the Bureau to approve acreage limitations that could limit critical vegetation management and harm the people of Montana.

Dr. Chengci Chen, MSU-EARC professor of agronomy and superintendent recently presented, in Sidney, the results of a study of camelina and canola as potential rotational crops for dryland and irrigated production systems. The study is being conducted at Montana State University Eastern Agricultural Research Center’s (EARC).

“Demands for oilseeds has increased in recent years; canola and camelina could be profitable alternatives to sugar beets, especially because the demand for camelina for biofuel production is surging,” said Chen, adding that several companies are seeking millions of acres for camelina production.

Camelina is a new crop to this area and both canola and camelina are suitable in rotation with crops such as wheat and barley and could potentially make a more profitable and resilient crop system. They are suitable for dryland and irrigated farming, though they have a higher yield under irrigation but plant disease is a concern. Research at EARC also aims at selecting cultivars that can produce higher yield with less input, especially nitrogen input. 

Chen’s research will offer vital information including cultivar adaptability and yield potential and agronomic management strategies for these alternative crops including fertility needs, planting time and rate, irrigation management, weed control, harvesting method, and disease management.

“Agriculture is very important to our community. With sugar beets out, and a lot of uncertainty, we want to find alternatives for growers that are profitable,” Chen explained. He went on to add of their research, “We don’t want farmers to fail on a large scale. Our research in small plot-scale allows us to figure out what cultivators can and what can’t grow in this environment and the agronomic strategies for these new crops before farmers take these crops to their farms for large-scale production.”

Dr. Chen welcomes farmers and the general public to attend the field to learn the work the scientists are doing at EARC and see the crop performance. Dr. Chen also wants to thank local businesses for sponsoring the luncheon at the field day.