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Leading the News

Media Analyses: EPA Review Gives Obama A Reason To Reject Keystone Pipeline.

Media coverage of the EPA review of the potential climate-change impact of the Keystone XL pipeline indicates that it is a serious blow to the project’s proponents in that it has provided President Obama with another reason to veto legislation mandating its construction.

The New York Times  (2/4, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that an EPA review concluded that “the recent drop in global oil prices might mean that construction of the pipeline could spur increased development of the Canadian oil sands – and thus increase planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.” The Times notes that President Obama “has said that an important element of his decision will be whether construction of the pipeline would contribute significantly to climate change.” The Times reports that the EPA review “came in response to an 11-volume environmental impact statement on the project that was produced last year by the State Department” and that Secretary of State Kerry “asked eight other agencies to weigh in on the project.”

Bloomberg  (2/3, Drajem) reported that EPA found that “developing Canadian oil sands would significantly increase greenhouse gases.” And Bloomberg says “environmental groups” now contend that the President has a “reason to reject the proposed…pipeline” because he “said he’ll reject TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone if it would lead to a significant increase in carbon pollution.” Environmentalist Bill McKibben is quoted as saying: “The EPA, in polite, knife-sharp Washingtonese, has taken apart the State Department on” Keystone “and shown it to be a climate disaster.” Likewise, Politico  (2/3, Schor) says the EPA provided the President with “a road map for rejecting” the project, and reports that “the oil industry did not disagree.” Cindy Schild of the American Petroleum Institute says the President “got his political cover here if he wants it.”

The Huffington Post  (2/3, Sheppard) noted that while the State Department has “suggested that the Canadian tar sands would be developed with or without the Keystone XL pipeline in place,” the EPA “found that without the pipeline, the oil would likely be transported by rail, which is more expensive,” so “higher transportation costs could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels” if the price of oil remains low.

According to the Washington Post  (2/4, Warrick, Eilperin), the EPA “has estimated that extracting oil from tar sands produces 17 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel of oil compared to traditional pumping and drilling operations.” The Post adds that TransCanada, the Canadian firm that wants to build the pipeline on US land, “disputed the [EPA’s] conclusions, saying the EPA was wrong, both in its estimates of additional emissions from tar-sands oil, and in its attempts to project the company’s response to depressed oil markets.”

The Daily Caller  (2/3, Weaver) reports that members of the press protested on Tuesday when State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki “refused to acknowledge whether all eight agencies” tasked with weighing in on the Keystone project have “submitted their reports and recommendations.”

House Will Accept Senate Version Of Keystone Authorization Legislation. The Washington Times  (2/4, Dinan) reports that on Tuesday, the House GOP leadership announced it will “accept the Senate’s Keystone XL pipeline bill next week” before “sending it on to President Obama for a final sign-or-veto decision.” The Times notes that the House “had a choice of accepting the Senate legislation, which is slightly different from the bill that passed the House earlier last month, or moving to go to a conference committee.”

Higher Education

Texas Instruments Donates $3.5M To UT Engineering Program.

The Dallas Morning News  (2/3) reports that the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering has received a $3.5 million donation from Texas Instruments “to develop a projects lab where students can learn practical electrical and computer engineering skills” to help find a career. The “TI Laboratories” is slated to open in 2017, and part of the donation will be used to provide TI equipment for the labs. “Students are critical to creating innovative solutions for the world’s biggest challenges… By putting TI technology into the capable hands of these future innovators, we hope to accelerate their work,” said Greg Delagi, senior VP with TI and a member of the Cockrell advisory board.

Study Shows Increasing Disparity In College Graduation Rates Between Rich And Poor.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/4, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that a study from the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute for Study of Opportunity in Higher Education shows that while the college completion rate of students from families in the top income quartile have increased from 55% in 1970 to 99% in 2013, the completion rate of students from families in the bottom quartile has remained about 20% in the same period. Though initiatives have focused on creating access to college for poor students, keeping them in school is still a challenge.

The AP  (2/4, Armario) reports that the study points to “a growing divide between who earns a bachelor’s degree by age 24, with the gap between the nation’s richest and poorest students doubling during the last four decades.” The report also shows that “college completion for students from the wealthiest families has risen dramatically, climbing from 44 to 77 percent.” The AP places the news within the context of the national discussion of College Affordability and President Obama’s push for free community college.

CFPB: $480 Million In Corinthian Student Loans To Be Forgiven.

Tuesday’s announcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that some $480 million in student loans taken out by students of colleges owned by the collapsed Corinthian Colleges Inc. will be forgiven is generating significant coverage in national media outlets today, with coverage presenting the view that the students had been duped by disingenuous marketing practices on the for-profit college firm’s part. Though some articles report that the Department of Education joined CFPB in making the announcement, other mentions of ED are restricted to its past sanctions of Corinthian which led to the selloff of its campuses.

The AP  (2/3, Boak) reports that CFPB “says Corinthian College students will be forgiven a total of $480 million in loans because the for-profit school used ‘bogus’ job prospects to persuade them to pay tuition with expensive private loans.” Noting that over 60% of Corinthian students who took out such loans defaulted within three years, the AP quotes CFPB Director Richard Cordray saying, “These consumers were lured into high-cost loans destined to default and then targeted with aggressive debt collection tactics.” The AP reports that CFPB sued the firm last year over these “troubled loans,” and adds that the forgiveness deal “releases the new owners of Corinthian’s Everest and WyoTech campuses, ECMC Group, from potential liabilities” over the loans.

The Christian Science Monitor  (2/3, Gross) reports that CFPB and ED made the announcement Tuesday, “saying students were harmed by the chain’s high-price student loan program — so-called Genesis loans.” The piece notes that last year, CFPB sued the firm for “luring tens of thousands of students into taking out loans with false promises of job prospects and career services” and using “illegal collection tactics to pressure students to pay back the loans — even while they were still in school.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/4, Thomason) reports that according to CFPB’s announcement, ECMC is footing the bill for the debt relief, and “also agreed not to offer a private student-loan program for seven years, and to adopt new policies aimed at consumer protection, among other things.” The piece concludes by noting that Corinthian collapsed “swiftly last year, prompted by stricter financial oversight from” ED, leading to “an agreement with the department to sell the vast majority of its campuses and ‘teach out’ the others.”

In similar coverage, the Los Angeles Times  (2/4, Kirkham) reports that ECMC “has voluntarily hired an independent monitor that will report to the U.S. Department of Education, to ensure the new owners are appropriately advertising to students and accurately reporting job placement and completion rates.”

Other media outlets that covered this story include Inside Higher Ed  (2/4, Fain), The Hill  (2/4, Wheeler), Bloomberg News  (2/4), the Central Valley (CA) Business Times  (2/4), the Miami Herald  (2/4, Vasquez), the Orange County (CA) Business Journal  (2/3), and The Oregonian  (2/4, Manning).

ECMC Planning $200 Million Effort To Win Over Students, Regulators. The Washington Post  (2/3, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the deal to sell off the campuses to ECMC has generated controversy because of concerns over “whether a company with no experience teaching is qualified to take over schools serving nearly 40,000 students.” However, “ECMC has lofty ambitions of turning the for-profit campuses into premier nonprofit schools, creating the country’s largest nonprofit system of career education.” CEO David Hawn says that over its first year of operation, “the company will spend more than $200 million on a series of initiatives and programs to largely gain the trust of students, and ultimately regulators.” Expanding on the controversy surrounding the sale, the Post reports that Under Secretary Ted Mitchell “insisted that shutting down the schools would have been a detriment to students who were close to completing their program.”

From ASEE
#ASEEYoADiversity 3-minute video. Pat Campbell: Getting high-achieving, low-income students to competitive colleges (it’s easier than you think)

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Research and Development

Uber, Carnegie Mellon To Partner On Research Lab.

The AP  (2/4) reports that Uber and Carnegie Mellon University this week announced a partnership to develop a research lab in Pittsburgh, which “both hope could lead to the development of driverless cars.” The partnership will involve funding from Uber for graduate fellowships and faculty positions at the university, as well as the building of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center near Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

Researchers Study How Best To Study Birds Using UAVs.

The Scientific American  (2/3, Intagliata) “60-Second Science” podcast reported that a team led by David Grémillet of the French National Center for Scientific Research looked into the best ways to use UAVs to study birds. Utilizing a quadcopter, the researchers discovered that birds do not mind a UAV’s “color and approach speed.” Furthermore, UAVs could come “as close as 13 feet,” unless they flew in from overhead, “an angle associated with predators.”

Wallops Flight Facility Has Strong Economic Impact.

The Delmarva (MD) Daily Times  (2/3, Vaughn) reports that the Eastern Shore Defense Alliance is changing its names to the Wallops Island Regional Alliance to better represent all of the interests in the region. According to the article, local officials are hoping to grow the region following “a string of successes the past two years at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and despite” the Orbital Sciences launch failure, a “major setback.” The article highlights a recent report that found that Wallops had an economic impact of $808 million. The report found, “The indication is that NASA employee spending has a larger multiplier than the average Virginia job, supporting more jobs among consumer-related establishments such as retail stores and restaurants.” Other prospects for growth include the Wallops Research Park and the FAA’s UAV test sites. Meanwhile, the article notes that the “next anticipated big news related to Wallops” should be the announcement of the winners of the next round of commercial cargo missions.

NASA Investigates Using Nuclear Powered Rockets For Mars Trip.

The Daily Mail (UK)  (2/3, Gray) reports that NASA is looking into developing new nuclear powered rockets for “a mission to Mars in 2033.” Stanely Borowski of the Glenn Research Center detailed how these rockets could be used on a spacecraft called Copernicus. In a report, Borowski wrote that the time it took a crew to reach Mars could be reduced by “as much as 50 percent” or even potentially to as little as 90 days. In another presentation, Michael Houts of the Marshall Space Flight Center said that nuclear propulsion could be a “game changing technology for space exploration.”

Workforce

Study: California Has One Of Nation’s Largest Tech Worker Populations.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/4, Kirkham) reports that according to an analysis released Monday by the Brookings Institution, California has one of the largest concentrations of technical workers in the US. According to the article, the report said that “advanced industry” workers, who spend significant time on research and possess above-average STEM skills, have significant populations in San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose, and the state overall “ranked seventh among all states for the concentration of advanced industry jobs.”

Industry News

FAA Intends To Encourage Commercial Activity On the Moon.

Reuters  (2/3, Klotz) reports that it obtained an FAA document sent to Bigelow Aerospace stating that the agency intends to encourage private sector activity on the moon, which could allow the company to land one of its inflatable habitats there. George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Transportation, who wrote the letter said, “We didn’t give (Bigelow Aerospace) a license to land on the moon. We’re talking about a payload review that would potentially be part of a future launch license request. But it served a purpose of documenting a serious proposal for a U.S. company to engage in this activity that has high-level policy implications.” Meanwhile, the article notes that report highlighted legal and diplomatic issues, such as the 1967 United Nations Outer Space treaty, which would need to be addressed before any commercial activity could commence.

Citing Reuters, the Mary Sue  (2/3, Van Winkle), The Inquisitr  (2/3, Wicksell), Daily Beast  (2/3), Gizmodo  (2/3, Campbell-Dollaghan), Fast Company  (2/3, Lumb), The Week  (2/3, DeMaria) “Speed Reads” website, GeekWire  (2/3, Brown), International Business Times (UK)  (2/3, Osborne), Blastr  (2/3, Moore), Tech Times  (2/3, Burks), Sputnik News  (2/3), Transterrestrial Musings  (2/3, Simberg),and The Verge  (2/3, O’Kane) also cover the story.

Blog Coverage. In a blog post for the Investors Business Daily  (2/3), Kerry Jackson writes about the Reuters article, noting that the government “should not intervene in private affairs,” whether in space or on Earth. To Jackson, private enterprise can do a better job than the government ever could in space.

FAA Wants More Money To Hire At AST.

Space News  (2/4, Foust, Subscription Publication) reports that in its 2016 budget request, the FAA wants a $1.5 million increase in the budget for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), mostly to hire more staff. The FAA said in the request, “Expansion of commercial space transportation is increasing AST’s regulatory workload, while the Office’s resources remain essentially unchanged.” The article notes that the request did not mention the “strain” the AST is under dealing with last years Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic accidents. Meanwhile, additional funds would be used to develop “a new commercial space transportation safety research program” and “better ways to incorporate commercial launches and spacecraft reentries into the national airspace system.”

Engineering and Public Policy

White House Encourages Adoption Of Cybersecurity Framework.

The Federal News Radio  (2/3, Miller) reports on White House’s cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel’s Monday blog, which asserts that to achieve the White House’s “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” the government should focus on “streamlining regulations, cybersecurity research and development, and Federal procurement policies and practice.” The article describes what each of these three incentives entail.

Elementary/Secondary Education

NASA Chooses Oklahoma As One Of Ten States For STEM Challenge.

The Pryor (OK) Daily Times  (2/4, Dickinson) reports that Oklahoma is one of ten states participating in the NASA STEM Challenge, which poses three design questions to students. Public schools in Chouteau-Mazie, Oklahoma will “engineer a plant growth chamber” for the Moon, pressure suits for astronauts, and an exercise game for astronauts in space. The students have six to eight weeks to complete the challenge.

Engineering And Health Classes To Be Offered By Mississippi District.

The AP  (2/3) reports “the Vicksburg Warren School District will offer courses this fall to prepare students for college or careers in engineering and health.” The courses “will be offered at both Vicksburg High School and Warren Central High School.” Superintendent Chad Shealy “says the district has received support from the state Department of Education.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

UT-Austin Engineer Develops First Silicene Transistors.
Epicenter Picks 25 Institutions For Pathways To Innovation Program.
Spaceflight May Prematurely Age Immune Systems.
NGAT Test Flies UAV System.
Obama Budget Proposal Would Create $4 Billion Fund To Reward States For Reducing Carbon Emissions.
Texas May Help Teachers, School Districts With Tough New Math Standards.

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