Some Hurdles Hamstring Homebuilders

A lack of buildable lots and a shortage of skilled labor are among the major issues facing homebuilders. With builders unable to find qualified workers to fill vacant positions, the rate of job openings in the construction industry is now greater than during the housing boom in the early 2000s.

 The skilled-labor shortage is likely to continue. Many young workers joined the industry during the boom, but lost their jobs during the Great Recession. When the energy sector began to slow down a couple of years ago, many of these workers were expected to rejoin the building industry. For a variety of reasons, though, a large share didn’t return to their old positions or other jobs in the industry. The average age of construction workers is around 41 years old. The average age was much lower during the construction boom of the early 2000s, indicating that the industry has lost many younger workers. The industry has started to make efforts to recruit younger people, but the product of these efforts isn’t likely to materialize right away. Continue reading “Some Hurdles Hamstring Homebuilders”

The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

U.S. start-ups are making headway on next-generation nuclear reactors. But companies worry about the big challenges they face to get new designs up and running in the U.S. That’s the message I heard after spending the better part of a day with nuclear industry insiders in Washington, D.C., at the Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase, an event for top nuclear players to tout recent developments and make their pleas to lawmakers. The mood was a mixture of guarded optimism and deep concern over government inaction.

Designs in the works are smaller, cheaper and safer than the current crop of reactors, which account for 20% of America’s electricity mix. Small modular reactors, for instance, can be manufactured at a factory and pieced together at the power plant site. Some novel reactor designs turn trash into treasure by running on spent fuel from conventional reactors in operation today. Other reactors in the works are so small and cheap they could replace diesel generators in off-the-grid areas such as small islands. Continue reading “The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors”

Trump Wants to Give Churches a Political Role

Churches will play a much greater role in American politics if President Trump and congressional Republicans have their way.

Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill for years have been eager to remove a provision of U.S. tax law that prevents churches and other nonprofits from participating in partisan political activities. Now, with Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, supporters of lifting the six-decade-old ban feel the time is right to act. Continue reading “Trump Wants to Give Churches a Political Role”

Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump

A long series of battles between tech companies and President Trump is getting started. Expect flare ups soon over issues that have been on the back burner, including encryption, net neutrality and surveillance. But it was Trump’s early move on immigration that set off an industry with many immigrant workers, including prominent immigrant leaders such as Google founder Sergey Brin, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The now-halted executive order banning travel from seven countries sparked swift opposition from the American tech industry. Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia backed the Washington state lawsuit that led to the travel ban being halted by federal judges. More than 120 technology companies, including Google, Apple, Intel and Facebook, joined a friend-of-the-court filing calling the executive order “unlawful” and “harmful to businesses.” No matter what happens to the travel ban in the future, tech companies are in for a long fight over immigration. Continue reading “Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump”

The Road Ahead for Diesel Engines

In the waning days of President Obama’s second term, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a “notice of violation” to automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that certain vehicles the company has sold don’t comply with the Clean Air Act. The specific charge: Pickup trucks and SUVs powered by the company’s diesel V-6 engine produce too much nitrous oxide, and the automaker used software to conceal the violation during emissions testing. The echoes of Volkswagen’s costly diesel emissions scandal were unmistakable. So, is it déjà vu all over again for diesel in America?

Some government regulators certainly seem to think so. Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement that “once again, a major automaker made the business decision to skirt the rules and got caught.” (CARB and EPA work together to test vehicles for emissions compliance and enforce air quality standards.) Considering that VW’s attempt to cheat on emissions rules by programming its diesel cars to run cleaner during lab testing has cost the automaker about $20 billion in various penalties, you can imagine why FCA’s stock price tanked after the news broke.

But is this the same situation exactly? Continue reading “The Road Ahead for Diesel Engines”

Trump’s Tenuous Relationship With Congress Will Evolve

President Trump’s success, ultimately, rests with his ability to work with Congress. And while his relationship with Republicans who control Capitol Hill has gotten off to a rocky start, expect things to smooth over in the coming months as both sides work toward advancing common goals.

Trump’s views expressed in many of his early executive actions, particularly those involving trade, immigration and foreign policy, don’t align perfectly with the Republican mainstream, so it’s not surprising he didn’t check first with GOP leadership on the Hill. But looking ahead to big ticket items on the party’s legislative calendar, namely an Obamacare overhaul and tax reform, the sides are in much more agreement; not perfectly in sync, but not poles apart either. Continue reading “Trump’s Tenuous Relationship With Congress Will Evolve”

A Wet Winter Out West Points To A Big Spring for Hydroelectric Power

One little-noticed consequence of the heavy rain and snow falling on California and other Western states this winter: A potential boom in hydroelectric power generation this spring.

Hydropower doesn’t get much attention in the U.S. these days. Unlike wind and solar power, which are growing rapidly, there hasn’t been a flurry of new-dam construction in recent years. Unlike natural gas, the supply of which has soared thanks to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, no technology revolution has transformed the hydropower industry lately. And unlike coal, which has been at the center of heated political and environmental disputes, fights involving hydropower rarely make national headlines because they tend to involve individual dams. Continue reading “A Wet Winter Out West Points To A Big Spring for Hydroelectric Power”

Why Future Supreme Court Picks Will Be Hardliners

Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, will be confirmed, but probably not without an unusual step guaranteeing that many future nominees to the highest court by presidents of both parties will be far more partisan than in the past.

Gorsuch, known as a powerful writer who prefers to interpret the Constitution as he thinks its authors intended, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as a circuit judge. Under ordinary circumstances, he would easily win confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Continue reading “Why Future Supreme Court Picks Will Be Hardliners”