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CRS — The Effectiveness of the Community Reinvestment Act (January 7, 2015)

January 16, 2015 Comments off

The Effectiveness of the Community Reinvestment Act (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA; P.L. 95-128, 12 U.S.C. §§ 2901-2908) addresses how banking institutions meet credit needs in low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods. The federal banking regulatory agencies—the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)—currently implement the CRA. The regulators conduct examinations to evaluate how banks are fulfilling the objectives of the CRA and issue performance ratings. Having a satisfactory or better CRA rating is desirable when banks request to merge with other banking institutions.

Congressional concerns regarding the CRA stem from various perceptions of its effectiveness. Some contend that the CRA creates incentives for banks to make loans to unqualified borrowers likely to have repayment problems, which can translate into losses for lenders. Others are concerned that the CRA is not generating sufficient incentives to increase credit availability to qualified LMI borrowers, which may impede economic recovery for some following the 2007- 2009 recession.

Big Deal? U.S. Changes Stance on Cruelty Prohibition, CRS Legal Sidebar (December 16, 2014)

January 16, 2015 Comments off

Big Deal? U.S. Changes Stance on Cruelty Prohibition, CRS Legal Sidebar (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In connection with the presentation of the U.S. periodic report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture November 12-13, the Obama Administration announced a change in the U.S. interpretation of certain aspects of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Most significantly, the Administration reported that it believes the ban on cruel treatment applies to certain areas overseas.

CRS — American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics (January 2, 2015)

January 14, 2015 Comments off

American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides U.S. war casualty statistics. It includes data tables containing the number of casualties among American military personnel who served in principal wars and combat actions from 1775 to the present. It also includes data on those wounded in action and information such as race and ethnicity, gender, branch of service, and cause of death. The tables are compiled from various Department of Defense (DOD) sources.

Wars covered include the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Military operations covered include the Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission; Lebanon Peacekeeping; Urgent Fury in Grenada; Just Cause in Panama; Desert Shield and Desert Storm; Restore Hope in Somalia; Uphold Democracy in Haiti; and the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation New Dawn (OND), and Operation Inherent Resolve.

For the more recent conflicts, starting with the Korean War, the report includes additional detailed information on types of casualties and, when available, demographics. It also cites a number of resources for further information, including sources of historical statistics on active duty military deaths, published lists of military personnel killed in combat actions, data on demographic indicators among U.S. military personnel, related websites, and relevant Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports.

CRS — Keystone XL Pipeline: Overview and Recent Developments (January 5, 2015)

January 14, 2015 Comments off

Keystone XL Pipeline: Overview and Recent Developments (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would transport oil sands crude from Canada and shale oil produced in North Dakota and Montana to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline would consist of 875 miles of 36-inch pipe with the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels per day. Because it would cross the Canadian-U.S. border, Keystone XL requires a Presidential Permit from the State Department predicated on the department’s determination that the project would serve the national interest. That determination considers environmental impacts, evaluated and documented in an environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

TransCanada originally applied for a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2008. An issue that arose during the permit review was environmental impacts in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska. This concern led the Nebraska legislature to enact new state pipeline siting requirements that would alter the pipeline route. The Presidential Permit was subsequently denied by the State Department. In May 2012, TransCanada reapplied for a Presidential Permit with a modified route through Nebraska. The new permit application initiated a new NEPA process.

CRS — U.S. Crude Oil Export Policy: Background and Considerations (December 31, 2014)

January 14, 2015 Comments off

U.S. Crude Oil Export Policy: Background and Considerations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

During an era of oil price controls and following the 1973 Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), which directs the President “to promulgate a rule prohibiting the export of crude oil” produced in the United States. Crude oil export restrictions are codified in the Export Administration Regulations administered by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)—a Commerce Department agency. Generally, U.S. crude oil exports are prohibited, although there are a number of exemptions and circumstances under which crude oil exports are allowed. The President has authority

In 2009, a decades-long U.S. oil production decline was reversed due to the application of advanced drilling and extraction technologies to produce tight oil, generally light/sweet crude primarily located in Texas and North Dakota. Limited demand for tight oil and condensate being produced in the Texas/Gulf Coast region may result because certain refiners in that region are currently configured to process heavier crudes. As a result, oil producers and industry analysts are projecting an oversupply of light oil, which could lead to price discounts and lower production should export restrictions remain. However, the industry is dynamic, and refiners can modify operating configurations and add equipment in order to accommodate more light crude volumes. Price discounts may be needed to motivate such changes.

CRS — Human-Induced Earthquakes from Deep-Well Injection: A Brief Overview (December 22, 2014)

January 14, 2015 Comments off

Human-Induced Earthquakes from Deep-Well Injection: A Brief Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The development of unconventional oil and natural gas resources using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has created new demand for wastewater disposal wells that inject waste fluids into deep geologic strata. An increasing concern in the United States is that injection of these fluids may be responsible for increasing rates of seismic activity. The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in the central and eastern United States has increased dramatically since about 2009, from an average of approximately 20 per year between 1970 and 2000 to over 100 per year in the period 2010-2013. Some of these earthquakes may be felt at the surface. For example, 20 earthquakes of magnitudes 4.0 to 4.8 have struck central Oklahoma since 2009. The largest earthquake in Oklahoma history (magnitude 5.6) occurred on November 5, 2011, near Prague, causing damage to several structures nearby. Central and northern Oklahoma were seismically active regions before the recent increase in the volume of waste fluid injection through deep wells. However, the recent earthquake swarm does not seem to be due to typical, random, changes in the rate of seismicity, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The relationship between earthquake activity and the timing of injection, the amount and rate of fluid injected, and other factors are still uncertain and are current research topics. Despite increasing evidence linking some deep-well disposal activities with human-induced earthquakes, only a small fraction of the more than 30,000 U.S. wastewater disposal wells appears to be associated with damaging earthquakes.

CRS — Premium Tax Credits and Federal Health Insurance Exchanges: Questions and Answers (December 19, 2014)

January 14, 2015 Comments off

Premium Tax Credits and Federal Health Insurance Exchanges: Questions and Answers (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Legal challenges that may have a substantial impact on the implementation and operation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) concern whether premium tax credits are available for millions of individuals participating in federally administered health insurance exchanges. These credits, which became available in 2014, are intended to help individuals pay the premiums for private health plans offered through the insurance exchanges established under the act. In addressing who may receive this credit, ACA refers to individuals who are “enrolled in [a plan] through an exchange established by the State” under ACA. Following the issuance of IRS regulations that allow for these credits to be available in both state and federally run exchanges, lawsuits were filed claiming that the language of ACA prohibits the credits from being available to individuals who obtain coverage in federally run exchanges. The Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on this issue in King v. Burwell. While the Supreme Court has not yet set a date for oral arguments in the King case as of the date of this report, it is expected that the case will be argued sometime in March, and a decision would be rendered by the end of the Court’s term in June 2015 at the latest.

This report provides background on provisions of ACA relevant to this issue. It then answers questions concerning the legal challenges and potential implications of the Court’s decision in King.

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