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

Leading the News

Alaskan Lawmakers Outraged Over White House ANWR Announcement.

Nearly all the reports on Sunday’s announcement that President Obama will urge Congress to prohibit oil and gas exploration in a large part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge make it clear that there is no chance the Republican leadership in Congress will accede to the President’s request. The announcement prompted denunciations from Alaska’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who ran on a ticket with the Democratic nominee for governor last year.

Politico  (1/25, Restuccia) said the President had “picked a fight with Alaska’s congressional delegation.” Alaska Dispatch News  (1/25), formerly the Anchorage Daily News, covers the announcement from the Administration under the headline, “Alaska Congressional Delegation, Governor Irate Over Obama Plan To Block Development In ANWR.”

The outrage from Murkowski, in particular, could present problems for the Administration because she not only holds sway over the energy panel, but she is also among just a handful of moderate Republicans in the Senate who might potentially ally with the Administration over the next two years. The apparently dead-on-arrival proposal from the President is reportedly the work of departing White House senior counselor John Podesta, who will be concentrating on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as of next month. Due to Podesta’s role in its formulation, the ANWR request could help Clinton appeal to environmentalists even as it further undermines the President’s relationship with Congress.

The New York Times  (1/26, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that on Sunday, the White House announced that the President will “ask Congress to increase environmental protections for millions of acres of pristine animal habitat.” The Times says the request to designate much of ANWR as “wilderness” has “triggered fierce opposition from” Republicans because it “would forbid a range of activity that includes drilling for oil and gas and construction of roads.” The Times adds that although it is “unlikely to find support in Congress,” nevertheless “environmentalists cheered the proposal.” Sen. Murkowski is quoted as describing the proposal as a “stunning attack on [Alaska’s] sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy.” Murkowski added, “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory.”

The Los Angeles Times  (1/26, Cloud) notes that although “the final decision…rests with Congress,” the Interior Department “plans to immediately begin managing the area under that level of protection.” USA Today  (1/26, Jackson) reports that Sen. Dan Sullivan alleged that the Administration’s “ultimate goal” is to “mak[e] Alaska one big national park.” McClatchy  (1/25, Cockerham, Subscription Publication) reports that Gov. Walker “called it a blow to a state that’s already suffering a huge loss of revenue as a result of low oil prices.”

Higher Education

Obama’s Move To Cut 529 College Saving Plans Criticized.

This past week President Obama “touted new ways to help students pay for college,” but he also proposed cutting 529 college savings plans, which are “used by millions of American families,” the Washington Post  (1/24, Douglas-Gabriel) reports. Although the Administration “has tried to frame the elimination of the tax break as a way to redirect more money to middle class families,” critics claim that Obama’s plan “is deaf to the needs of ordinary Americans who are looking for any help they can get saving money for college.”

WPost Calls For Taxing Tax-Free College Savings Plans. In an editorial, the Washington Post  (1/26) reports that the President has “caused a furor with his plan to tax withdrawals from so-called 529 plans,” designed as a savings program for college tuition. The Post says that if “politicians insist on subsidizing college savings through tax-free accounts, they should impose a means test.”

In an op-ed for USA Today  (1/26), regular contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, writes that the President’s plan to tax 529 withdrawals is an attempt to go after “middle class assets,” as is his plan to “tax the appreciation on inherited homes.” Reynolds says that over the long term, “the appetite for government spending is effectively endless, while the sources of revenue are limited.”

Tweaks To Federal Law Could Ease Student Debt Burden.

An analysis in the New York Times  (1/24, Carey, Subscription Publication) reports that two “little-noticed legislative tweaks to a small, obscure loan repayment program — revisions made under two very different presidents — appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes in how a college education is bought and paid for,” potentially resulting in greatly eased conditions for student loan consumers. The Times explains that in 2007, “Congress passed a major overhaul of the federal college financial aid system” which contained changes to the income-based repayment that went mostly unnoticed at the time. Then, in 2010, more “important changes to the income-based repayments were made,” making them “even more generous.”

California Governor At Odds With Napolitano Over Tuition Hike.

The Washington Post  (1/23, Wilson) reports that while California Gov. Jerry Brown “usually gets his way with the Democratic legislature,” and wields “almost total influence” in most state agencies, University of California President Janet Napolitano “has, in 15 months on the job, proven an able politician with sharp elbows of her own.” The two are currently fighting “over Napolitano’s request for a significant tuition hike — up to 28 percent over five years.”

December ASEE Prism Online
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Research and Development

Unmanned Helicopter Under Development Could One Day Act As Scout On Mars.

The New York Daily News  (1/25, Alba) reported that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a Mars Helicopter project that would send a unmanned vehicle to the planet to act as “a low-flying scout” for rovers on the surface. Currently, NASA is testing out a prototype device. Bob Balaram, chief engineer of Mobility and Robotics Systems at JPL, said, “There is a challenge of the very low density of the atmosphere. There’s the challenge of keeping the whole mass of the system small so that we don’t overwhelm the lift of this system. … Because this thing is going to take off every day, we want to make sure we have a bulletproof landing system, and landing is the riskiest part of any mission.” According to the article, the vehicle could one day be “an add-on to future rover missions” if approved for development.

Industry News

Boeing Expects To Deliver 900 Planes Per Year.

Aviation Week  (1/22, Norris) reported that at AIAA SciTech 2015, John Tracy, chief technology officer and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations and Technology at Boeing, said that airplane deliveries are increasing and Boeing could deliver more than 900 planes per year at some point in the near future. This “remarkable annual total” almost doubles what the company shipped back in 2010, according to the article. The article noted that the Tracy’s estimates are made possible by “stabilization and improvements” in production at existing plants in Washington State, as well as the addition of the new plant in South Carolina.

The Wichita (KS) Business Journal  (1/22, McCoy, Subscription Publication) also covered the story, citing Aviation Week.

Engineering and Public Policy

Agreement Could Shield US Firms That Build Reactors In India.

The agreement announced by President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, which is meant to pave the way for the construction of US-built nuclear reactors in India, generated a substantial amount of US media coverage. While that deal is described as a positive step for the US nuclear industry, it is also widely noted that few specifics were revealed, and that was made necessary after it became clear that the Indian parliament would not change a law under which US companies are liable for nuclear accidents at reactors they build, but do not subsequently operate.

The New York Times  (1/26, A5, Baker, Barry, Subscription Publication) reports that in regards to the nuclear deal, “details remained vague.” The Times adds that it is “unclear whether the understanding would convince American companies, such as GE and Westinghouse, to invest in India’s civilian nuclear development” without a “rewrite” of India’s “liability law, which Sunday’s understanding did not call for.” The Times adds that “some analysts said the understanding sounded vague and inconclusive.” Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, an analyst for the Observer Research Foundation, is quoted as saying: “It’s a deal on principles rather than specifics, which as far as I’m concerned is not a deal at all.”

On the CBS Evening News (1/25, story 3, 2:10), Jeff Glor reported that on Sunday, the President “announced what he called a ‘breakthrough’ understanding allowing US investment in nuclear energy in India.” Major Garrett went on to report from India that the President and Modi “shield[ed]…US firms who build power plants” in India “from liability in case of accidents.” According to Garrett, “The agreement could be a boon to US companies and aid India’s efforts towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The Times of India  (1/26) says “the significance of the completion of the India-US nuclear deal cannot be overstated.”

McClatchy  (1/25, Kumar, Subscription Publication) reports that the US and India will “change…liability laws” in India, and thereby “allow American companies to invest in nuclear energy development in India.” According to McClatchy, a 2008 “landmark nuclear deal…was to bring tens of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the US,” but there had been “an impasse since India passed the laws in 2010 that left suppliers, not operators, accountable for damages resulting from accidents at nuclear facilities.” McClatchy says the “compromise” announced on Sunday “came…after a series of meetings between” President Obama and Prime Minister Modi.

NTSB Calls For Improvements In Locating Downed Aircraft.

ABC World News (1/22, story 9, 1:40, Muir) highlighted some of the recommendations offered by the NTSB on Thursday for locating downed aircraft, including one that called for jets to be “equipped with an ejectable recorder, when something goes wrong.” The report mentioned that the NTSB also recommended that “low frequency transmitters be attached to the plane, which will make it easier to hear, making the fuselage easier to find.” The broadcast mentioned that even if the recommendations are “adopted, it could be years before this technology shows up in jetliners.”

For its part, the AP  (1/22, Lowy) reported that among its recommendations, the NTSB called for aircraft to be equipped with tamper-resistant transmitters, which “send a plane’s location minute by minute via satellite.” The article noted that the NTSB’s recommendations “far exceed industry-backed recommendations,” which are likely to be debated in an upcoming meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The article also mentioned the NTSB’s recommendation for cockpit image recorders. According to the report, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) President Tim Canoll said the union is “opposed to video cameras, explaining that the cameras could be misused and the money would be better spent elsewhere.”

Bloomberg News  (1/22, Levin) reported that the NTSB did not provide any “cost estimates” for its recommendations, “and it would be up to” the FAA “or Congress to decide whether to force them on the industry.” The report also mentioned that a recommendation in 2000 from the NTSB calling for “cockpit image recorders was opposed by pilot groups, which said they feared the devices would also capture images of death.” According to the article, ALPA’s Tim Canoll said in an email that the group is “‘deeply concerned’ with the video recommendation.”

Further, USA Today  (1/22, Jansen) reported that ALPA has argued “in a white paper that video would invade a pilot’s privacy.” Canoll said that the recommendations on video recorders “are a premature overreaction” that “will not improve safety and could, in fact, impede it by diverting limited resources that could be used for more valuable safety enhancements.” Canoll added, “ALPA will continue to work with industry and government to develop systems that make air travel – already the safest mode of transportation – even more safe.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post  (1/22, Halsey) reported that the NTSB wants jets that travel over oceans “equipped with a mechanism to draw search crews within six nautical miles of where they crash.” Joseph Kolly, director of the NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering, said, “Our intent is to find the crash site.” He added, “If you know within six nautical miles, you know where to send the ships.”

The Wall Street Journal  (1/22, Pasztor, Subscription Publication), NPR  (1/22, Schaper) “The Two-Way” blog, Aviation Week  (1/22, Croft), and other media sources also covered the story.

U.S. To Support UN Program To Share Information About Risks To Commercial Aircraft. Reuters  (1/22, Martell, Lampert) reported that the U.S. will support a UN aviation agency proposal to share information about risks to commercial aircraft in conflict zones. The International Civil Aviation Organization plans to propose the use of a central website where members can record risks.

Future Of Solar Projects Uncertain As Tax Credit Ends.

The New York Times  (1/26, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that plans for additional solar farms in the US are on hold, “largely because of uncertainty surrounding an important tax credit worth 30 percent of a project’s cost.” While the Investment Tax Credit “is to remain in place until the end of 2016, when it will drop to 10 percent, that does not give developers enough time to get through the long process of securing land, permits, financing and power-purchase agreements, executives and analysts say.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

West Kentucky Regional Science Bowl To Be Held Next Month.

The Paducah (KY) Sun  (1/26) reports that registration is now “open for middle and high school teams to participate” in the Energy Department’s “annual West Kentucky Regional Science Bowl next month at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Paducah Campus.” The “winning middle and high school teams will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to compete in the DOE National Science Bowl from April 30 to May 4.”

High School Seniors Encouraged To Apply For 2014-15 Edison Scholars Program.

Our Weekly Los Angeles  (1/23) reports on the upcoming Feb. 1 deadline for the 2014-15 Edison Scholars Program. High school seniors “who live in or attend public or private high schools in the Southern California Edison service area” and are “planning to pursue college studies in science, technology, engineering or math” can apply. Students “from low-income families and underserved communities are encouraged to apply.” Scholarships recipients “may also be eligible for summer internships at SCE after completing their second year of college.” The article notes that Edison International “has awarded nearly $4 million in scholarships” since 2006.

This story was also covered by the Los Angeles Watts Times  (1/22) and Hoy Los Angeles  (1/22) and KMEX-TV Los Angeles (1/26) also broadcast the story.

Pepco STEM Club Event Held On Friday.

On its website, WRC-TV  Washington (1/24) reported middle school students gathered in Washington, DC last Friday for the launch of the Pepco STEM Club. Dave Velazquez, executive vice president, power delivery for Pepco Holdings Inc., said, “Young students are introduced to the dynamic and exciting world of technology through STEM.” Velazquez also said, “The program nurtures aspirations and provides educational direction to which the participating children may not otherwise be exposed.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

DOE Announces Funds For Fuel Efficiency Vehicle Technology Research.
URI Professors Receive Science Grant.
Researchers Create Hydrophobic Metal.
Boeing Expects To Deliver 900 Planes Per Year.
Study: $90 Million Of Natural Gas Escapes Boston Area Pipes Each Year.
High School Seniors Encouraged To Apply For $1.2 Million Edison Scholars Program.

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