Leading the News
House Science Committee Passes NASA Bill Along Party Lines.
The Hill (4/30, Hattem) reports that the House Science Committee passed “a two-year NASA policy bill” along party lines that would “refocus the space agency away from studying the Earth, and instead force it out toward the stars.” Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said after the vote, “We must restore balance to NASA’s budget if we want to ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space for the next 50 years. And we must continue to invest in NASA as the only government agency responsible for space exploration.” By reducing what NASA could spend on Earth science by over $300 million, while increasing planetary science by $200 million, Rep. Steven Palazzo said, “The bill balances exploration and science, and restores true balance to the science division.”
Space Policy Online (4/30) reports that in a statement, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said that the bill “guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate….NASA leads the world in the exploration and study of planets, and none is more important than the one on which we live.” He also criticized the bill for reducing space technology investment, which the “nation needs to lead in space, including on our journey to Mars.”
Fallout From Corinthian Collapse Continues.
US News & World Report (4/30, Bidwell) reports that in the wake of the closure of Corinthian Colleges Inc., “thousands of students are in an academic limbo – saddled with federal debt and possibly unable to transfer credits.” The piece notes that ED faced criticism this week for steering students wanting to transfer to “other troubled for-profit colleges,” noting that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that “the misstep shows the department ‘is out of touch with reality.’” ED is also facing pressure to forgive student loan debt “of not just current Corinthian students, but also those who were defrauded in past years.” The article notes that Under Secretary Ted Mitchell recently said that ED will only discharge the debt if students “agree to give up any credits they earned at Corinthian schools,” quoting him saying, “You can have the credits you paid for or you can relinquish the credits if you want the money back. Students can have one or the other, but not both.”
California Bill Would Help Corinthian Students. The San Francisco Chronicle (5/1) reports that a bipartisan bill in the California legislature would “provide some relief” to students at the “abruptly shuttered Corinthian Colleges,” noting that the measure “would waive fees at community colleges for Corinthian students affected by the closure, give them legal assistance to help with the loan forgiveness process and provide them with tuition recovery by expanding the California Student Tuition Recovery Fund to students who attend high-risk, for profit colleges, among other benefits.”
Rubio Had Sought Leniency For Corinthian. Inside Higher Ed (4/30) reports that last summer, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) wrote to ED officials saying “that the department should show leniency to Corinthian while it was cooperating with the department’s investigation.” The article notes that a Rubio spokesperson “defended the letter,” saying that Rubio was working to protect Florida students while holding the firm accountable for its misdeeds. MSNBC (5/1, Benen) reports also covers this story.
Student Loan Debts Outstrip Wage Gains, Pose Risk.
Bloomberg News (4/30, Wilson) reports that Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, has released a report noting that Millennials’ student debts have risen six times faster than their wages since 2009, suggesting that they will spend less than previous generations in an effort to pay off that debt. The increase comes at a time when other forms of debt such as mortgages, home-equity loans, and credit cards are declining. In order to combat the “financial conservatism in spending and saving patterns” that this situation causes among the recently graduated, Bovino writes, wages need to increase.
Research and Development
NSF Grant To Help University Of Louisville Bring Research To Market.
The Louisville (KY) Business First (4/29, Aretakis, Subscription Publication) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Louisville a $300,000 grant “to commercialize research,” designating the school one of a few dozen Innovation Corps Sites. The piece reports that Robert Keynton, chairman of the Speed School’s department of bioengineering, “said the grant allows the university to fund and train entrepreneurial teams to develop technology and bring it to market.”
3-D Printing Making Inroads In Industry, Medicine.
The Rochester (NY) Business Journal (5/1) reports on the increasing use of 3-D printing in industry, saying that that the technology is “driving the next industrial revolution” and is useful in such fields as prosthetics, manufacturing, and crafting “living tissue.” The article lists a number of local businesses that are using the technology, and details the use of a 3-D rendering of a patient’s heart that helped University of Rochester Medical Center physicians “replace a failing heart valve.” Meanwhile, a separate article in the Rochester (NY) Business Journal (5/1) reports that the center’s orthopaedics department “can print new bones using a 3-D printer,” noting that such materials soon could “replace those lost by soldiers in explosions.” Meanwhile, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Earl W. Brinkman Professor Denis Cormier says that “hybrid printing or printing multiple material projects, such as running sneakers,” is the next stage of development for the technology.
Finland Announces Russia’s Titan-2 Will Build Country’s Sixth Reactor.
The AP (4/30, Huuhtanen) reports that Finland’s Fennovoima announced Thursday that Titan-2 of Russia, named by Rusatom Overseas, a subsidiary of Rosatom, will build the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear plant. Finland is requiring that the plant be at least 60 percent owned by domestic investors. The agreement to build the plant was originally approved in 2013. Titan-2 “will build the nuclear and turbine island and provide installations, materials and equipment.” It will be Finland’s sixth nuclear reactor when completed in 2024. The country’s fifth reactor, under construction since 2005, was planned to be completed by 2009, but is now expected to be operational in 2018. It is a “1,600-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor, being constructed by French-German engineering conglomerate Areva-Siemens.”
GM Announces $5.4 Billion Investment In US Facilities Ahead Of Upcoming UAW Contract Talks.
On Thursday, GM announced that it intends to spend $5.4 billion over three years on overhauling its US factories and create approximately 650 jobs. Coverage of the announcement casts it as an indication that GM executives are confident in their current trajectory and overall strategy, as well as a signal to the UAW that they will not expand their manufacturing operations into countries with cheaper labor, such as Mexico and China, at the expense of GM’s current domestic operations.
According to the New York Times (5/1, Vlasic, Subscription Publication), the spending plans announced on Thursday are “another example of the way auto companies are taking advantage of healthy profits and a strong American car market to increase spending on plants and new technology.” The Times notes that GM “declined to specify where the investments would be made, other than naming three Michigan plants that will receive a combined $783.5 million in improvements.”
Bloomberg News (4/30, Welch) reports that the $5.4 billion announced on Thursday “brings to $16.8 billion GM’s investments in its U.S. facilities since exiting a government-assisted bankruptcy in June 2009.” But Bloomberg adds that GM “also has been investing outside its home country,” including in China where a “joint venture” GM is part of “plans to spend $16 billion by 2020,” and in Mexico, where GM “will put $5 billion into plants.”
In a piece for Forbes (4/30), Bill Visnic says GM’s “giant outlay is targeted to improve largely unseen aspects of a new vehicle that…GM hopes you never necessarily ‘notice,’ intrinsic goodness such as tighter-fitting body panels, advances for vehicle structures that can improve ride and handling, upgrades for corrosion-resistant coatings and sealants – entirely unsexy stuff that nonetheless enhances underlying quality.” According to Visnic, “By investing fresh billions in the core of its business, GM is demonstrating confidence in its current strategies.”
Likewise, in another piece for Forbes (4/30), Dale Buss says GM executives “portrayed their announcement as indicative of a company that continues to invest confidently in the future as it enjoys a six-year resurgence.” Reuters (4/30, Klayman) reports that on Thursday, GM North American manufacturing chief Cathy Clegg said, “The common thread among our investments is the focus on product improvements.”
Doron Levin of Fortune (4/30) reports that GM CEO Mary Barra has “laid out financial goals that included an EBIT-adjusted profit margin for North America of 10% by 2016,” as compared to 8.9 in 2014. Levin adds that Barra “also said GM intended to achieve a 10% EBIT-adjusted margin for the entire company early in the next decade; last year it was 4.2%.” However, Levin says “investors remain cautious about GM’s ability to meet these goals, evidenced by the stock’s disappointingly flat performance since its initial public offering in 2010.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Congress Urged To Continue Support For Hydro.
In an op-ed in The Hill (4/30, Gallo) Bob Gallo of Voith Hydro writes that “while hydropower finds itself in a better regulatory environment, the federal government should continue to expand its partnership with private industry to boost the country’s largest renewable resource,” which DOE estimates at 65,000 megawatts of hydropower potential. Gallo writes that the draft House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill cuts FY2016 funding for DOE’s Water Power program by one-third, “jeopardizing the critical research and development advanced by the program,” and he urges that funding be restored to current levels.
House Rejects Efforts To Cut Funding For Yucca Mountain.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (5/1, Tetreault) reports that Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV), and Dina Titus (D-NV) both made efforts to remove funding for the Yucca Mountain waste site from the House energy and water appropriations bill. Both efforts were rejected by voice vote. Heck’s proposal would have spent the $150 million proposed for Yucca on research into techniques for reducing nuclear waste’s radiotoxicity, while Titus proposed simply to remove the budget item. The House is expected to approve the bill Friday, with $150 million for the Department of Energy and $25 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue work on the waste site. The amounts are described as a small part of the total cost of developing a repository at Yucca Mountain, given that the NRC has estimated a cost of $330 million for licensing, and the full cost of opening the site has been estimated at around $100 billion.
President Signs Energy-Efficient Building Law.
The AP (5/1) reports that the President on Thursday “signed long-delayed legislation to boost energy efficiency in buildings” at a White House ceremony where he was “surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.” The law “aims to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants and homes.” The President “says he hopes it will lead to more progress on environmental issues.”
Canadians Don’t Expect Action On Keystone During Their Election Campaign.
Reuters (5/1, Ljunggren) reports that according to three Ottawa-based sources, President Obama is not expected to announce a decision on the Keystone XL project between mid-June and mid-October so as not to be seen as interfering in the Canadian elections. While the official 36-day campaign won’t begin until September 14, informal campaigning is expected to start when Parliament adjourns for the summer around June 19.
WTimes Analysis: Minorities Rejecting President’s Climate Change Agenda.
In an analysis piece, the Washington Times (5/1, Wolfgang) reports that “influential black and Hispanic leaders warning that stiff regulations to limit carbon emissions will have a devastating effect on the poor and will further stifle economic opportunity for minorities.” The “mounting wave of criticism” from some minority leaders who generally back the President comes because the President’s “environmental agenda runs counter to their chief concern: protecting the poor and ensuring that they can afford to keep their lights on.”
Study Warns Global Warming Could Increase Species Extinctions. The New York Times (5/1, Zimmer, Subscription Publication) reports that according to a new analysis published on Thursday in the Journal nature, climate change “could drive to extinction as many as one in six animal and plant species.” University of Connecticut Ecologist Mark Urban “also found that as the planet warms in the future, species will disappear at an accelerating rate.” He said, “We have the choice. The world can decide where on that curve they want the future Earth to be.”
STEM Health Program Launched By Texas Instruments.
US News & World Report (4/30, Neuhauser) reports that a new STEM health program launched by Texas Instruments in which students use software to study and treat a Type 1 diabetic woman’s insulin levels. The software teaches students about ratios and computations through insulin levels and helps children understand what jobs like nursing entail. The program will add a Type 2 diabetes program in May, a genetic disease program in August, and a breast cancer program in October.
Bill To Fund STEM APs Targets Gender, Race, And Income Enrollment Gap.
The Pasadena (CA) Journal News (5/1) reports that a California bill to provide advanced STEM coursework in underprivileged communities passed the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday. The bill is an attempt to grow the number of minorities, females, and low income students that study AP coursework and will provide grants to school districts to help create AP courses in STEM fields.
Illinois Robotics Clubs Among Top FIRST Robotics World Championships.
The Peoria (IL) Journal Star (4/29) reports that Peoria, Illinois area robotics clubs won top awards at the FIRST Robotics World Championships. Mechanical Monarchy coach Robert Mitchell said that the students are “already looking forward to next year.” The article then provides the rosters of the team and their coaches.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Holtec Signs Agreement To Build Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility In New Mexico.