ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

GOP Set To Pass Keystone Legislation.

McClatchy  (1/8, Cockerham, Subscription Publication) reports that legislation forcing the approval of the Keystone XL project is expected to pass the House this week and the Senate “as soon as next week.” The President has said he would veto the bill “despite his own State Department downplaying the environmental damage.” Obama “said he was waiting for a Nebraska court ruling on the route and a final State Department ruling before deciding whether Keystone should go.”

Politico  (1/8, Restuccia) reports that backers of the Senate bill “scrambled Wednesday to keep the project alive — a day after the White House threatened to veto the bill.” Lead sponsors Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and John Hoeven (R) met to plot strategy, and they see three potential ways to get the legislation through, though each method has challenges. The first is to gain sufficient backing to override a veto, the second is sweetening the legislation through amendments, and the third is to attach the measure to “must-pass legislation.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times  (1/8, Wolfgang) reports that a key part of the Keystone “puzzle could fall into place as soon as Friday, with a Nebraska court set to deliver a long-awaited ruling on whether the project’s proposed route through the state is legal.” The “highly anticipated decision” won’t decide the fate of the project, but “will signal whether years of additional delays are on the horizon or whether President Obama finally will be forced to give the definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the project.”

White House Issues Formal Veto Threat. The Hill  (1/7, Barron-Lopez) reports that on Wednesday, a second, formal veto threat came from the White House on Keystone XL legislation. In a formal statement, the White House said, “If presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.”

Higher Education

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Brookings Analysis: New Graduates Over-Burdened By Student Loan Payments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (1/7) reports that according to a new analysis from the Brookings Institution, the average new college graduate “is likely to devote 14 percent of his or her paycheck to student loans.” The article describes disparities by degree type, noting that fine-arts or therapy graduates “can expect to put more than 20 percent of their pretax income toward paying off student loans.” Meanwhile, nursing or engineering graduates will “need to dedicate less than 10 percent of their initial income to student loans.”

Navajo County Community College District Board Accepts STEM Grant.

The White Mountain (AZ) Independent  (1/7) reported the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board accepted a three year $25,000 a year “National Science Foundation grant through the Science Foundation of Arizona to ‘build awareness of and interest in STEM careers and coursework before student reach high school.’” The money will go towards kits for Kids College math and science camps and awards Navajo and Apache county regional science fairs. The article went on to describe other board actions.

California Think Tank Working With Cal Poly On Projects.

The San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune  (1/5, Wilson) reported in an article carried by Techwire that, two years after being founded, the nonpartisan Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy housed at Cal Poly is “implementing the first phases of” as $1.2 million “Digital Democracy” web-based platform to record and post online government meetings, the 750,000 pilot “Connect Academy” project, with will create wirelessly connected tables “to help Spanish-speaking families navigate the school system and provide at-home learning for students and parents,” and a $750,000 research project that could become a National Wave Energy Test Facility. Founder and former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee was paraphrased as saying the think tank differs from others in its “work results in practical, hands-on products instead of simply generating theoretical ideas.” It works on its projects with Cal Poly faculty and students.

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Research and Development

Hopkins President Warns Underfunding Young Researchers Hurts Scientific Achievements.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News  (1/8, Philippidis) reports that an online article by Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, “the nation’s top NIH-funded research university,” published in the Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) says that “the ‘brain drain’ of underfunded young investigators leaving academic research has worsened in the near-decade since a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel identified several hurdles to their success and hints of an exodus from the profession.” Daniels’ article also included “a 2013 GEN Exclusive report detailing how young researchers were coping with the NIH funding squeeze by seeking alternative sources for their research dollars” in its footnotes.

Industry News

Amazon Looking To Create Program For Tech Startups.

Re/code  (1/7) reports that Amazon has advertised job positions for a new venture aimed at promoting startups and channeling their sales through Amazon’s e-marketplace. Targeted sectors reportedly include hardware and electronics companies that develop “robotic toys [and] fitness and health gadgets.” The article notes that unlike other competitors, Amazon has been slow to interact with the tech startup community. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

The Puget Sound (WA) Business Journal  (1/7, Lerman, Subscription Publication) also reports on Amazon’s startup program, which will reportedly concentrate on “hardware setups, especially in the robotics space, and may include mentoring from Amazon’s team.” The article quotes a new job listing for a product manager position, which looks for someone to “define, build, and manage a new large-scale program to serve startups-as-customer.”

Amazon Possibly Preparing To Court Inventors. Entrepreneur Magazine  (1/7, Clifford) reports that job application listings indicate Amazon is attempting to attract startup companies and small-scale inventors, noting that one job listing mentioned “the world’s best end-to-end platform for startups.” Job positions seeking applications include a Senior Manager of Product Management and a Senior Software Development Engineer. This potential platform follows Amazon’s 3-d printing venture, wearable-tech market, and Autodesk and Indiegogo partnership, and is compared to The Grommet and Grand Street. Amazon stated only it does not “comment on rumors and speculation.”

Gates-Supported System Converts Human Waste Into Electricity, Potable Water.

Bloomberg News  (1/8, Doom) says Bill Gates has put his stamp of approval on a system that converts human waste into potable water and electricity. Taking a sip of the product produced by the Omniprocessor, he said: “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. … And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”

The Microsoft founder “said he wanted to begin sending processing plants around the world after tests later this year,” BBC News  (1/8) reports. Accordingly, the “project was welcomed by WaterAid, which said that it could particularly help in urban areas.” the charity also pointed out that “some 748 million people worldwide lack clean drinking water.”

Obama Takes Credit For Resurgence Of US Auto Industry In Speech At Michigan Plant.

On a day when the terrorist attack in Paris dominated the news cycle, President Obama’s appearance at a car plant in Wayne, Michigan generated relatively little national media attention. Reports indicate that the President scheduled the event to tout the conclusion of the auto industry bailout started in 2008, and to make the claim that the industry’s resurgence parallels the nation’s accelerating economic recovery.

The AP  (1/8, Pace) reports that on Wednesday, the President “declar[ed] an American economic resurgence” as he “opened a three-state swing…aimed at claiming credit for recent growth and blunting the momentum of the new Republican congressional leadership.” The AP notes that in the wake of the Democrats’ “disastrous showing in the midterm elections,” the President “has…unveiled a series of aggressive executive actions and seen his low approval ratings start to creep up.” According to the AP, the President “cast his 2009 federal bailout of the auto industry as a key decision that helped set the recovery in motion” although the plant where the President spoke on Wednesday is “temporarily closed this week because of lack of demand for the small cars and hybrids it makes.”

The Detroit Free Press  (1/8, Snavely, Spangler) reports that the President “hailed the resurgence of the US auto industry as well as Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy.” The Free Press adds that the President “said the federal government could have provided the auto industry money without any strings attached or could have done nothing,” but “instead chose to lend money in a program designed to encourage restructuring.” According to the Free Press, “Portions of Obama’s speech sounded much like many of his campaign speeches in 2012.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Delays Rule To Control Carbon Dioxide Emissions At New Coal Plants.

The AP  (1/8, Cappiello) reports the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced “it would delay for months a final rule to control carbon dioxide emissions at new coal-fired plants.” The AP notes the move has the impact of “thwarting for now one way the Republican-controlled Congress could have blocked the administration’s plans on global warming.”

The Hill  (1/8, Cama) reported the EPA “now plans to finalize its rules for newly built power plants, existing plants and modified plants at the same time” during the summer. Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting administrator for air and radiation, said, “It’s become clear to us…that there are cross-cutting topics that affect the standards for new sources, for modified sources and for existing sources.”

NPR  (1/7, Phillips) reported the agency said it also “needs more time to consider public input.” McCabe “says incorporating public input is a top priority.” McCabe said that “since last year we have been following through on President Obama’s directive to engage extensively with the broadest possible range of perspectives.”

US News & World Report  (1/7, Neuhauser) reported McCabe disputed the idea that the delay is part of a “legal strategy,” saying, “These are individual rule packages and however those legal ramifications will fall out, we’re focused on the fact these rules are a suite of rules affecting the industry.”

According to Bloomberg News  (1/8, Drajem), the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity “called the announcement a sign Obama will ‘go at it alone’ to ‘fulfill a misguided presidential legacy.” The group’s president, Mike Duncan, said in a statement, “The administration is doubling down on its climate crusade at the expense of our economy and our people.”

Electricity Officials, EPA Disagree Over Whether New Rules Will Negatively Impact Power Grid. The Wall Street Journal  (1/8, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports some officials who run the US electricity network claim the Clean Power Plan will negatively impact the country’s power grid and could lead to blackouts. The Journal notes the EPA disagrees with the position, taking the position that the flexibility given states to enact the change and the 15 years given to make the adjustments will ensure the energy supply.

Massachusetts Wind Farm In Jeopardy After Utilities Cancel Contracts.

Bloomberg News  (1/8, Goossens) reports Cape Wind, a “$2.6 billion offshore wind farm that’s been under development in Massachusetts for 13 years, is facing a significant threat as two utilities seek to terminate contracts to buy electricity.” National Grid Plc and Northeast Utilities’ NStar “filed to cancel power-purchase agreements” due to the wind farm failing to “complete financing by Dec. 31.” Cape Wind Associates, in letters provided to the utilities, claims it did not obtain financing in time due to the “unusual circumstances” presented by “extended, unprecedented and relentless litigation.”

The International Business Times  (1/8, Gallucci) reported Cape Wind’s developers “say the contract cancellations aren’t valid and have threatened litigation.”

The AP  (1/7) reports National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro said his company “is disappointed that Cape Wind has been unable to meet its commitments under the contact.” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday “he didn’t know if the project could survive.” Patrick said the state has “done everything…to get them over the regulatory lines…after that it’s up to the market and up to the leadership of the project and their partners to get it done.”

DOE, ORNL To Partner With Canadian Company To Develop Integral Molten Salt Reactor.

In an analysis for Forbes  (1/7), James Conca announced that the US Energy Department “announced that its Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee is partnering with Canadian nuclear company Terrestrial Energy Inc. (TEI) to assist with TEI’s new Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).” The “engineering blueprint stage for this GenIV reactor should be reached in two years” and the reactor could come online “in less than ten.” Conca touts the merits of the technology that is cheaper than coal, creates less waste, is modular, does not use water for cooling and does not create waste that can be “repurposed for military use and has strong proliferation resistance.” Conca says nuclear power has been waiting for the “new round of reactors to bring the industry into the 21st Century so we can address our numerous environmental and energy challenges.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

California Districts To Pilot Professional Development For Next Gen Science Standards.

THE Journal  (1/7, Schaffhauser) reports eight California school districts and two charter school organizations will participate in four years of teacher and administrator leadership training and “content- and pedagogy-focused professional development,” as part of the K-8 Next Generation Science Standards’ implementation. The program is being led by the nonprofit K-12 Alliance, beginning with a weeklong workshop in August. The districts and charter organizations will form a “collaborative network” to aid implementation.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Governors Call For NCLB Reform, Job Training Funding.
Study: SAT More Predictive Of Black Students’ Success In College.
New York Education Group Offers Policy Positions.
Seed Experiment Wins Mars One Contest.
Intel Sets “Aggressive Goal Of Dramatically Increasing” Workforce Diversity By 2020.
California Breaks Ground On Nation’s First “Bullet Train.”
Logsdon: NASA’s Budget Likely To Stay At Current Levels.

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