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

Leading the News

Over Two Dozen States File Lawsuit Against Clean Power Plan.

The Washington Post  (10/24, Warrick) reports that 25 states on Friday filed lawsuits to block the Administration from implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan after the rule was officially published in the Federal Register. According to the AP  (10/24, Biesecker), EPA Administrator McCarthy expressed confidence “we will again prevail against these challenges and will be able to work with states to successfully implement these first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal  (10/24, A3, Harder, Kendall, Subscription Publication) outlines the likely legal arguments in the case and acknowledges many of the states would be heavily affected by the EPA’s rule. Reuters  (10/24, Volcovici, Hurley) adds the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have joined with other business groups in a separate lawsuit.

WPost A1: Regulations Raise Fears Among Small Coal-Burning Utilities. The Washington Post  (10/24, Warrick) reports that new Federal regulations restricting coal use to generate energy is leaving dozens of small utility companies across the country “bracing for soaring costs and possible plant closures.” While the Administration has indicated that such “fears are overblown,” the Post notes that small plant owners “are stuck with facilities that can’t meet the new standards” set by the Clean Power Plan, while larger plants “are expected to meet the new standards with relative ease.”

Higher Education

Democratic Senators Urge ED, IRS To Take Action Against For-Profit Colleges Converting To Non-Profits.

The Washington Post  (10/23, Douglas-Gabriel) reports a group of Democratic Senators including Sens. Warren and Blumenthal wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen demanding the offices “prevent former for-profit education companies from abusing their tax-exempt status and to protect students from predatory actors.” ED spokeswoman Denise Horn said ED is concerned that some for-profit education companies may “adopt the trappings of nonprofit status” to side-step those rules while “continuing to make money from the schools.” Horn said ED has not approved for-profit education companies that have converted to non-profits waiving the rules that govern for-profit education companies. Horn also responded to the Senators’ letter, “We share the Senators’ commitment to helping students and also look forward to working with Congress to strength both consumer protections for students and our oversight and enforcement tools for institutions participating in the federal student aid program.”

Corinthian College Students Still Struggling With Aftermath Of Schools’ Closures.

The Contra Costa (CA) Times  (10/26, Murphy) reports many former students of Corinthian College, a group of 28 for-profit schools that were mostly in California, are still struggling after the schools’ closures in April and unsure how to proceed with their education. About 350,000 people have taken out student loans to attend a Corinthian College school since 2010. Even though ED created a simplified process for applying for student loan forgiveness for students who attended Heald College, one of the most fraudulent institutions in the network, less than one sixth have filed such claims. California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill earlier this month that would have provided legal assistance to the former students.

Republicans Challenge CFPB Investigation Of For-Profit Colleges.

The Washington Post  (10/24, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Congressional Republicans asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to stop its “unprecedented” investigations into the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). The Post reports that the CFPB came under fire for investigating the accreditation process of for-profit colleges, ITT Educational Services, and Corinthian Colleges. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. John Kline are quoted as saying that the issue of accreditation will be addressed in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act later this year.

Legislation Looks To Counter Rising Costs Of Textbooks.

Fox News  (10/23) reports that Federal lawmakers are “exploring a new tactic for reducing soaring college costs, pushing a plan to help students access online textbooks for free as opposed to spending hundreds of dollars on print versions.” The Affordable College Textbook Act, “a plan to shave these costs that has been pushed before to little success, was re-introduced Oct. 8” by several Democrats in both chambers. The program “would set up federal grants to help colleges move to using – and creating – more so-called “open textbooks,” which are free and available online for students.”

From ASEE
October Prism Now Online – Members Only
Cover story – A sprawling telescope array has made South Africa a world leader in radio astronomy and produced a pipeline of specialized engineers.

The Best Part of ASEE Membership
Members weigh in in this short video from the Annual Conference.

Transforming Undergraduate Eduction in Engineering
Read the first report of this multi-phase project.

Research and Development

Opinion: Deployment Of Electric Weapons Dependent On Development Of Battery.

Writing in Forbes  (10/25), contributor William Pentland discusses the economic and tactical advantages of deploying electric, laser weapons and argues that the successful development of such weapons will be accomplished by what ever country best designs a stronger and more efficient battery to support the systems.

Dallas County Commissioners Court To Enter Debate On Ozone.

The Dallas Morning News  (10/19, Weiss) offered an extensive 1,554-word article covering the debate in Texas over ozone, which a new study by the environmental group Downwinders at Risk moved back into the spotlight after its findings indicated that ozone could be significantly reduced in the Dallas area by cleaning up pollution around several Dallas-area coal plants. On Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court, at the request of Commissioner Theresa Daniel, will discuss the financial benefits of cleaning up or shutting down three such plants, using the evidence provided by the study. Creditors of Energy Future Holdings, which is in bankruptcy and the owner of those plants, will also be involved in the discussions. Despite EFH contentions that the study is exaggerated and agenda-driven, Commissioner Daniel cited her responsibilities to ensure public health and safety as her motivation for introducing the resolution.

KTVT-TV  Dallas (10/19) reported that environmental activist group Downwinders at Risk are citing the findings of a University of North Texas team to argue that the study should offer enough evidence to prompt Luminant Energy, a Texas electricity provider currently in bankruptcy, to place air quality controls on its plants before it sells them. Brad Watson, director of Luminant, dismisses the findings, claiming that the study is biased because Downwinders at Risk paid $120,000 to a UNT academic. However, Jim Schermbeck, director of the group, argues that the fact that the UNT team used the same computer model as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality “gives us immunity from cries of bias or prejudice.”

Start-Ups Eyeballing Nuclear Fusion.

The New York Times  (10/26, Grandoni, Subscription Publication) reports on a rebirth underway, driven by startup companies, in the pursuit of nuclear fusion as an energy source. While that goal “has long evaded government scientists and university researchers, despite decades of work and billions of dollars in research,” the startups “say they can succeed where government has fallen short.” Among those investing in fusion companies are Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who has invested in British Columbia’s General Fusion, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who has backed Foothill Ranch, California-based Tri Alpha Energy. Still, “private funds cannot match those of the most ambitious government fusion energy project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER),” being jointly constructed by the EU, the US, and five other countries for about $14 billion. But DOE “is also hedging its bet, granting $30 million to alternative fusion projects, including Helion Energy, which received $4 million.”

Industry News

Momentum Builds For Energy Storage Industry.

The New York Times  (10/26, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that the energy storage industry is “gaining more investment and interest” as regulators move to “require its inclusion in renewable energy developments and wholesale electricity markets.” The article focuses on Vionx Energy, which has batteries that “can last at full storage capacity for 20 years,” longer than competing technologies, making them “more cost-effective over their useful life.” While battery storage systems are still expensive, they “make financial sense” for customers in expensive markets and for utilities in states with “high concentrations of wind and solar,” according to Paul Albertus, a program director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

High Efficiency Solar Panels Said Poised To Produce Power Competitive With Fossil Fuel.

In an analysis, Michael McDonald of Oil Price writes for the Christian Science Monitor  (10/23) that “it’s indisputable that solar power has made enormous strides in every important aspect as a viable source of power.” A milestone was made with SolarCity’s announcement that it has developed a higher efficiency solar panel , McDonald writes. SolarCity’s 22 percent module efficiency brings it into competition with Sunpower’s 20 percent module and Panasonic’s prototype 22.5 percent module which should drive competition and economies of scale among high efficiency panels to drive down their costs. McDonald writes that an output to dollar ratio of around $3.50 per kWh, which is critical to the economics of solar would be “low enough to be competitive with conventional fossil fuel generation from a traditional power company even without any subsidies or tax benefits in certain locations.”

Engineering and Public Policy

WPost Analysis: Lobbyists Delaying Deadline For Train Safety Technology.

A Washington Post  (10/26, Laris) analysis reports that Congress “is on the brink of postponing the deadline for the use” of Positive Train Control, the “automatic braking system that federal regulators call ‘the single-most important rail safety development in more than a century.’” In the wake of a deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia last May, “everyone – including the railroad and federal investigators – agreed that the catastrophe could have been prevented” by the technology, but what has occurred since then “provides insight into the influence that effective lobbyists wield in Washington and how ready access to members of Congress has helped one industry fend off a costly safety mandate.”

In an editorial that is highly critical of the requirement that railroads implement the technology, the Wall Street Journal  (10/26, Journal, Subscription Publication) argues the deadline should be extended, and faults Sen. Barbara Boxer for preventing the inclusion of an extension in a measure to temporarily extend the Highway Trust Fund.

NYTimes Analysis: Cuomo Takes Risk In $750M Solar Power Facility.

In a 1,600-word article, the New York Times  (10/26, Craig, Subscription Publication) reports that, in the “biggest economic development effort he has undertaken,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has committed $750 million on a solar panel factory in Buffalo, the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere, according to the state. The Times says the project is a “high-profile test” of the economic strategy employed by Cuomo, who “has not just bet big on solar energy,” but also on SolarCity, the California company that will operate the factory. A 30 percent federal-investment tax credit for solar power awarded to SolarCity will “be significantly reduced or go away altogether in 2017.” Furthermore, there is “also the specter” of a federal probe into how the facility’s construction contracts were awarded, though SolarCity’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Rive said the company hasn’t been subpoenaed “and does not believe it was a target.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Nonprofit Working To Close Gender Gaps In STEM.

The Houston Chronicle  (10/26, Radcliffe) reports on the efforts of Girlstart, an Austin-based nonprofit focused on closing gender gaps in STEM fields. The article says that “it takes more than painting a robot pink” to get some girls to think of becoming engineers. The article says the girls need to be shown that STEM jobs can improve the world. The article says that cultural change is needed to assure girls that engineers are “builders and problem-solvers” rather than “nerds.”

Students’ Robots Compete In Denver Event.

The Denver Post  (10/24, Hernandez) reports on the Rocky Mountain Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) competition held Saturday in Denver. The article reports that 28 teams of students from the Denver area had robots compete. The six highest scoring teams will attend a competition in Arkansas in December, according to the Post.

Girls Tech Group Provides Support In Oregon.

The AP  (10/25) reports on the Girls Technology, Empowerment and Confidence Club (G-TEC) in Eugene, Oregon which is meant to give girls ages 10 to 18 opportunities in STEM. The article says the club “arrives at a time when the gap between women and men” in STEM-related fields “remains stubbornly disparate.” The article mentions an anecdote of two girls saying that they were interested in robotics but that their school’s robotics club “seemed more geared toward boys than girls.” The article says that “if interest persists” the program will continue beyond its currently planned end date in December.

DC Kindergartners Encouraged To Pursue STEM Interests.

The Washington Post  (10/24, Chandler) reports on a Saturday morning activity for kindergartners at DC’s Cedar Tree Academy meant to “encourage the students, all African Americans attending school in a poor neighborhood east of the Anacostia River, to focus their talents” on “building bridges, towers and gadgets.” The Post reports that Rachel Williams, cofounder of Paige & Paxton, led the event. According to the article, Paige & Paxton is a Chicago-based company that “aims to expose children and their parents to the STEM fields and the potential for jobs.” The article reports that “the number of female African American and Latino students who pursue high-paying jobs” related to STEM is small, so the company is trying to “hook them early on” and encourage them to develop interests in the field.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Drone Registration Plan Draws Mixed Reviews.
SHPE To Honor Utah Engineering Student.
Sandia Engineer Develops New LED Driver.
Facebook Update To Remedy iPhone App Battery Drainage.
Report: EPA Mine Spill Was Not “Likely Inevitable.”
University Of Tennessee Hosts Engineering Event For 1,500 High School Students.

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