Leading the News
Administration Proposes $15 Billion Overhaul Of Nation’s Energy Infrastructure.
Reuters (4/22, Volcovici, Gardner) reports that on Tuesday, the Administration unveiled its plans to modernize the nation’s energy infrastructure under its Quadrennial Energy Review. The report calls for more than $15 billion in new spending or tax credits for the overhaul. Among the priorities laid out in the QER are grid modernization, transportation infrastructure expansion, and more flexibility for the President in tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Hill (4/21, Henry) reports that Vice President Biden “began selling” the plan on Tuesday, “pitching it as a pro-business, pro-middle-class economic driver at a utility provider in Philadelphia.” Biden said, “Investing in our infrastructure creates a virtuous cycle creating good paying jobs, attracting companies to America and expanding the ones who are here.”
Politico (4/21, Restuccia, Schor) reports that as part of the program, the Administration calls for spending “as much as $3.5 billion” to replacing older national gas pipelines, but that amount “is just a fraction of what it would take to replace the hundreds of thousands of miles of decades-old cast-iron and bare-steel natural gas distribution pipes.” A “full replacement would cost $270 billion,” according to the QER, and the “whole proposal immediately ran into GOP skepticism.”
Congress Clears Energy-Efficiency Legislation. The New York Times (4/22, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that on Tuesday, the House passed legislation on a voice vote “focused on improving energy efficiency in buildings and water heaters, a move celebrated by both parties for breaking longstanding partisan gridlock.” The President is expected to sign the “modest” bill into law this week, as the Senate passed it by voice vote last March.
Nearly 200 Colleges Allow Students With High SBAC Scores To Skip Remediation.
Education Week (4/22, Gewertz) reports that some 200 colleges in six states are planning to allow students to “skip remedial coursework if they reach the college-readiness score on the 2015 Smarter Balanced assessment.” The article calls this a “major development” in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s efforts to “persuade higher education to accept the ‘college ready’ cut score on its 11th grade test for course-placement purposes.” The piece notes that two colleges have made a similar arrangement with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
ED Investigating Old Dominion University’s Handling Of Off-Campus Attack.
The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot (4/22) reports that ED is investigating how Old Dominion University handled “an alleged attack and robbery of a student” at an off-campus residence. The article quotes and ED spokesperson saying, “The department is aware of the incident and will conduct an assessment of the incident and the institution’s handling of the matter.”
Research and Development
Watkins Selected To Lead University Of Texas’ Space Research Center.
The Austin (TX) Business Journal (4/21, Theis, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Techflash” blog that Michael Watkins “has been picked to lead the University of Texas’ Center for Space Research at the Cockrell School of Engineering.” Watkins previously “worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 22 years and now oversees JPL’s Science Division.”
Report: Non-STEM Fields Now Require STEM Skills.
US News & World Report (4/21, Soergel) reports a National Science Board report released Tuesday argues that complaints about STEM worker shortages “have been around since the 1950s and that they’re ultimately not a good use of time.” In a conference call yesterday National Science Board chairman and National Renewable Energy Laboratory director Dan Arvizu said, “As science and technology have kind of permeated all corners of our economy, the distinctions between STEM and non-STEM jobs in the workplace are beginning to blur.” In 2010, roughly 5.4 million people “held positions that would typically be classified as science and engineering” but “16.5 million people, nearly 12 percent of the 2010 workforce, said they worked in positions that required at least a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering concentration.” Arvizu added, “New industries and the growing importance of STEM skills in jobs not traditionally thought of as STEM means that we must revisit what we mean by a ‘STEM worker.’”
Engineering and Public Policy
McCarthy Expects Emissions Rules Ready By “Mid-Summer.”
The Huffington Post (4/21, Sheppard) reports that EPA Administrator McCarthy said on Tuesday that the final rules for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants will be ready by the middle of the summer, and added that she expects them to survive legal and political challenges. McCarthy told HuffPo, “We’re really comfortable that we can get this rule done in mid-summer and do justice to a full evaluation of all those comments, so that we can make sure that it gets over the finish line really solid. It’s going to be solid legally, and it’s going to get some tremendous progress moving forward to address carbon pollution that’s fueling climate change.”
Kerry: Time Running Out For Climate Change Action. Secretary of State Kerry writes in USA Today (4/22) that climate change, “if unchecked, is an urgent threat to health, food supplies, biodiversity and livelihoods across the globe.” But while the solution “is staring us in the face,” Kerry says the “question is whether national and local leaders will summon the political will” to act “effectively and soon.” He warns that while “we still have time to make a difference…it’s fast running out.”
Green Groups Study Argues Cutting Methane Could Be Cost-Effective. The New York Times (4/22, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that a study commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund argues that reducing methane leaks “from oil and gas operations around the world could provide a relatively inexpensive way to fight climate change.” The report, written by the Rhodium Group, found that in 2012, 3.6 billion cubic feet of gas escaped worldwide and “would have been worth $30 million on the market.”
Oklahoma Recognizes Drilling Contributing To Quakes.
The New York Times (4/22, Wines, Subscription Publication) reports that “abandoning years of official skepticism,” Oklahoma’s energy and environment cabinet “embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.” The government “introduced a website detailing the evidence behind that conclusion Tuesday, including links to expert studies of Oklahoma’s quakes.”
Green Groups Study Argues Cutting Methane Could Be Cost-Effective.
The New York Times (4/22, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that a study commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund argues that reducing methane leaks “from oil and gas operations around the world could provide a relatively inexpensive way to fight climate change.” The report, written by the Rhodium Group, found that in 2012, 3.6 billion cubic feet of gas escaped worldwide and “would have been worth $30 million on the market.”
McCarthy Says EPA Has Successfully Fought Pollution.
The Hill (4/21, Cama) reports that the EPA “is celebrating and taking credit for major reductions in pollutants that once harmed human and animal health.” In a post online Tuesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “highlighted ‘4 big pollution problems EPA has (mostly) fixed already,’” noting the agency’s effectiveness in combating acid rain, air pollution, DDT, and leaded gasoline. McCarthy wrote, “The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that: We put smart policies in place to fix them.”
NERC: Coal Plants May Become Less Efficient Because Of Clean Power Plan.
Bloomberg News (4/22, Drajem) reports the North American Electric Reliability Corp said yesterday that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions may force many coal plants to run only when energy demand is at its highest, causing them to be less cost-effective. NERC in an assessment yesterday “asked the Environmental Protection Agency to delay the 2020 deadline to start implementing the Clean Power Plan, saying pipelines, transmission lines and plants are needed to prevent the cuts from disrupting electric service.” NERC vice president Thomas Burgess said on a conference call, “The generation mix in the North American power market is going through a fundamental change. … The Clean Power Plan is expected to accelerate some of those changes.”
The Hill (4/22, Cama) reports NERC’s findings may “empower Republicans who have long said that the Obama administration’s plan threatens access to affordable electricity and could lead to blackouts as coal-fired power plants are forced to retire.” The Environmental Protection Agency “defended the rule and said that reliability is one of its top priorities.” In a statement EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said, “We appreciate NERC’s efforts to report on possible impacts of the proposed Clean Power Plan, however, the report is premature because EPA has yet to issue a final rule, and states are still in the early stages of planning for and developing implementation plans.”
Platts (4/22) also provides coverage of this story.
SCOTUS Rules 7-2 That Federal Law Does Not Preempt Natural Gas Companies From State Antitrust Litigation.
The AP (4/21) reports on Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling “that energy companies can be sued under state antitrust laws for illegally manipulating natural gas prices more than a decade ago during California’s energy crisis.” In a 7-2 majority, SCOTUS denied claims by natural gas companies like American Electric Power Co. and Duke Energy Co. that the precedence of Federal law goes against any state making a claim.
Reuters (4/22, Hurley) reports that the natural gas companies cited the Natural Gas Act that gives FERC the power to regulate wholesale gas prices. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, pointing out that the Natural Gas Act originated as a way to give states some oversight in the natural gas market.
Bloomberg News (4/22, Stohr) reports that the natural gas customers alleged that “suppliers reported false data to trade publications whose price indexes were the basis for many retail sales contracts.” Breyer’s opinion stated that the plaintiffs are seeking redress for “practices affecting retail rates, which are firmly on the states’ side of that dividing line.”
FIRST Robotics Championships Start Wednesday In St. Louis.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (4/22, Moore) reports that 17,000 students from kindergarten to high school will be heading to St. Louis for the FIRST national robotics championships, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday. The championship, held for the fifth time in St. Louis, will be held at America’s Center and Edward Jones Dome as well as the Renaissance Grand Hotel and Union Station, which were added to accommodate the growing size of the competition. Over 30,000 spectators are expected. FIRST founder Dean Kamen and President Don Bossi said in the welcome letter that the competition is “about developing future generations of innovators, tinkerers, doers, and thinkers.”
Virginia Robotics Teams Prepare For FIRST Competition. The AP (4/21) reports that STEM teaching group VirginiaFIRST said 21 Virginian teams will compete in St. Louis. The teams will primarily use charter buses and fundraisers to keep costs minimal.
High School Engineering Students Invent Flood Monitor.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/22, McDaniel) reports that Downingtown High School West students in Pennsylvania are testing Aqua Tweeter devices, which post on Twitter when flood levels in the town rise. The devices were invented by several students and a local software developer that assists the school for an Introduction to Engineering Design class, but local borough council members requested the devices be implemented to alert the flood-prone town to rising water levels. The device measures the water depth and photographs the scene, then posts the information online.
STEAM Bus To Be Used By Missouri Public Schools.
The Columbia (MO) Missourian (4/22, Antolik) reports that a school bus filled with STEAM technology, including 3-D printers, flight simulators, and laser engravers, will be used by the Columbia Public School System in Missouri. Columbia Public Schools practical arts coordinator Craig Adams said the bus is intended as a way to “excite elementary kids for the STEAM field in a way we could not do in the classroom.”
Illinois Library Hosts Electronics Dismantling Party.
The Chicago Tribune (4/21, Fornek) reports that the Hinsdale Public Library in Illinois held an “Electronics Take a-Party,” in which 11 students disassembled electronics alongside Youth Services Librarian Deidre Winterhalter.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Obama To Highlight Climate Change Threat To Everglades On Earth Day.