Leading the News
Flint Water Crisis Continues With Federal Agencies, State Officials, Congress All Taking Different Actions.
The Detroit News (3/3, Burke) reports HHS announced on Thursday that Medicaid coverage will be expanded to include Flint families affected by the city’s lead-contaminated water. Families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level who lived in Flint between April 2014 and a future date when the water is deemed safe will be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the expansion. The New York Times (3/3, Goodnough, Subscription Publication) reports the Obama Administration agreed to pay 65% of the expansion’s costs for pregnant women and 99% for children, while the state will cover the rest. The Washington Post (3/3, Bernstein) reports the expansion will extend coverage to 15,000 pregnant women and children, and another 30,000 people already enrolled in Medicaid will be eligible for additional services. Specific health services related to the treatment of lead poisoning will be provided for free, including testing the level of lead in patients’ blood and behavioral health treatment. The Hill (3/4, Ferris) reports HHS issued a statement, “It is a top priority for the administration and for the department to ensure that all children and pregnant women exposed to lead in their water in Flint have access to the services they need.” MLive (MI) (3/3, Emery) reports Gov. Snyder and members of Michigan’s congressional delegation requested the expansion and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said she is grateful for the decision to expand coverage.
Flint Will Begin Replacing Lead Pipes On Friday. MLive (MI) (3/3, Acosta) report Flint will begin replacing lead pipes on Friday. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has scheduled a news conference for 300 pm to begin her $55 million Fast Start program to replace old lead pipes in the city. Weaver has said the program will target homes with pregnant women, young children, people with compromised immune systems, and senior citizens first.
New York Times Itemizes “What Went Wrong In Flint.” After reviewing the thousands of emails released by the Michigan Governor’s office, the transcripts of multiple Congressional hearings, and other documents, the New York Times (3/4, Subscription Publication) lists 12 events that caused the Flint water crisis in an article entitled “What Went Wrong In Flint.” The list begins with Flint’s decision to switch to the Flint River as its primary water source and ends with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to “minimize” the research findings of a team from Virginia Tech University that found elevated lead levels in the city’s water, months before the story broke. Other items on the list include local officials dismissing the complaints of city residents and the failure of health authorities to investigate the source of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the city.
Governments Partnering With Universities On Big Data Analysis.
Government Technology (3/4) reports that as government entities develop and store ever increasing amounts of raw data, “a movement — a new spin on an old concept — has begun to take root: partnerships between government and research institutes.” Such partnership “aim to match strength with strength. Where government has raw data, professors and researchers have expertise and analytics programs.” Municipal governments benefit by gaining insights into “trends that help make operations more efficient or perhaps cut down on wasteful spending,” while university students can “learn and gain practical experience” from their analysis. The piece quotes Steven Koonin, director of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, saying, “The students know that there are job opportunities in data analytics, so being able to get their hands on city data is a wonderful opportunity.”
Senate Democrats Ask ED To Retract Review Of Student Loan Servicers.
The Washington Post (3/3, Douglas-Gabriel) reports Senate Democrats, including Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ranking Democrat Patty Murray, are urging the Education Department to retract the findings from a review of its student loan servicers the department’s IG called “unsupported an inaccurate.” After an IG report this week “characterized the investigation as deeply flawed,” the Democrats sent a letter urging acting Secretary King “to rescind the review of the department’s four largest servicers — Navient, Great Lakes, Nelnet and American Education Services.” The Post quotes ED spokesman Matt Lehrich saying, “We have directed our servicers to review their records going back to 2008 and also continue to pursue additional measures to ensure that borrowers who were entitled to an interest rate cap and did not receive it are made whole. We look forward to continuing to work with members of the Senate towards our shared goal of protecting men and women in uniform.”
The Hill (3/3, Devaney) reports that the letter accuses ED of “turning a blind eye to members of the military who were overcharged for their student loans,” and “comes after an inspector’s general report earlier this week blamed the Education Department for not protecting student borrowers who are in the military from lenders.”
One Year After Closure Announced, Sweet Briar Alive “But On Life Support.”
The Washington Post (3/3, Svrluga) reports that one year after the president of Virginia’s all-women Sweet Briar College “abruptly announced that the school would have to close forever because of insurmountable financial difficulties,” the small liberal arts school “has gone from doomed to resurrected but on life support, to something that is still fragile.” The article describes the efforts that turned the school’s death sentence around and examines its prospects for the future.
Research and Development
Cornell Researchers Develop Artificial Glowing, Stretching Skin.
Christian Science Monitor (3/3) reports that a new artificial skin developed by researchers at Cornell University “not only stretches under pressure, but also glows all the brighter.” Researchers were “inspired by biology to create a balloon that bends when pressurized. The team placed an unyielding carbon fiber on the bottom and left the top free to respond to the pressure from both within and without.” Past artificial skins of a similar nature “have not…been able to accept embedded electronics, which generally break when molded or stretched.”
The Washington Post (3/3, Feltman) reports that one possible application of the technology is “a wearable smartphone that could bend and stretch with your body, all while displaying a glittering array of colors.” The technology is “designed to give soft robots the ability to change color and display information based on input from their sensors.”
Device Alerts Cane Users To Presence Of Objects Above Knee-Level.
The Wall Street Journal (3/3, Bloch, Subscription Publication) reports that Rohan Paul, PhD, has developed a battery-powered, ultrasonic detection device to attach to the handles of canes carried by the blind. Called the SmartCane, the device vibrates to alert its users to the presence of objects above knee-level.
Pitt Constructing Lab Space In Energy Innovation Center.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (3/3, Conti) reports that “as Western Pennsylvania becomes a growing cell of energy research and innovation, its nucleus is taking shape in a refurbished vo-tech school in the Hill District.” The Energy Innovation Center “has positioned itself as a collaborative space for private industry, universities and foundations to work side by side on research in a space that hosts job training programs sponsored by the center.” The conversion of the building “is continuing with the announcement Thursday that the University of Pittsburgh is building labs for four energy-related programs at its Swanson School of Engineering in the Energy Innovation Center” and when they are completed later this year “they will occupy more than a quarter of the center’s lab space and make Pitt its largest tenant.” Last year, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “visited the Energy Innovation Center to announce a joint project between the city and his department’s National Energy Technology Lab to experiment with district energy.”
Researchers Use Nanotechnology To Make Faster, Cheaper Water Filters.
Reuters (3/3, Gruber) reports researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed nano-scaled membranes made of layers of graphene that could help filter water both cheaper and faster than conventional methods. UC Berkeley assistant professor of environmental engineering, Baoxia Mi commented that since the new technology uses graphene, a resource that is abundant and cheap, the method used to make the graphene layers should be adaptable for both household faucets and industrial scale water filtration systems.
Samsung Display Invests In Flexible OLED Production Lines, Possibly To Supply iPhones.
UberGizmo (3/3, Kee) reports that Samsung Display is investing “another $325.73 million into the current flexible OLED manufacturing lines that are located in Tangjeong,” according to a Business Korea report, and plans to “double the output to 30,000 pieces of mother glass each month.” According to Nikkei Asian Review (JPN) (3/4, Ogura), the Samsung Engineering unit “received a 715 billion won ($588 million) order” for new equipment installation at the Tangjeong plant. The new production lines will reportedly “go online by the end of 2017,” Nikkei adds, as Samsung vies to fill orders from Apple. The 2018 iPhone is expected to feature an OLED display. Phone Arena (3/3) adds that eBEST Investment & Securities Co. predicts that Samsung Display’s total flexible OLED panel production capabilities will more than double, from “39,000 sheets per month to 90,000 sheets per month.” Android Authority (3/3, Carlon) offers similar coverage.
Report: Energy Storage Boomed In 2015.
Bloomberg News (3/3, Ryan) reports that according to a study released Thursday by GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association, US homes and businesses installed storage systems with 221 megawatts of capacity in 2015, bringing that number to 580 megawatts from 80 megawatts in 2008. The largest user of storage technology was utilities, “accounting for 187 megawatts, or 85 percent, of systems installed in 2015.” Energy storage advocates noted that “Renewable energy isn’t the only driver,” pointing out that “the technology lets utilities run power plants more efficiently and makes once-fragile grids more resilient in the face of storms, blackouts and terror attacks.”
Volkswagen Scandal Disrupts Prospects For Other Diesel Vehicles.
The New York Times (3/3, Ewing, Subscription Publication) reports that before the Volkswagen’s diesel engine scandal, European carmakers saw diesel as “essential to meeting the Continent’s tougher carbon dioxide quotas” as they emit less carbon dioxide, but more nitrogen oxide. Automakers’ plans have been “upended” by Volkswagen’s scandal which “called attention to lax European Union testing procedures” and to test cars outside of labs “under more rigorous road conditions.” BMW ‘s Peter Schwarzenbauer said, “Diesel will have to be equipped with even more technology” to sell, which is “all technologically conceivable, but someone has to pay for it.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Chief Justice Roberts Denies States’ Effort To Block EPA Power Plant Limit.
The New York Times (3/3, Liptak, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that in “a significant victory” for the Administration, Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday “refused to block an Environmental Protection Agency regulation limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.” The decision “comes three weeks after the full Supreme Court, in a highly unusual move, blocked another major Obama administration rule that would limit planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution from coal plants.” The Times adds that opponents of the Administration’s environmental policies “were buoyed by the high court’s decision to halt” the Clean Power Plan, “reading it as a sign that the court was willing to halt other regulations while they undergo changes and review,” but “legal experts said the chief justice’s decision on Thursday signaled that they might not be successful in further attempts to halt environmental rules while they are still subject to legal challenges.”
The Wall Street Journal (3/3, Harder, Kendall, Subscription Publication) reports that 20 states last week asked the court for an emergency stay of the regulation, but Chief Justice Roberts denied the request without comment and without referring it to the full court, which the Journal said was a signal that Roberts believed the request did not make a strong case.
Proposed Atlantic Oil Drilling Dividing Southeast.
The New York Times (3/3, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports there is a regional divide growing between the Southeast’s coast and its landlocked states over an expected proposal from the Administration to open federal waters in the southern Atlantic to oil and gas drilling. The plan is backed by Republican governors in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and the GOP majorities in all those states’ legislatures. However, coastal residents “see potential disaster” and the destruction of tourist industries. Meanwhile, environmentalists are “furious” with President Obama. The Times says oil and gas industry lobbyists and environmental groups “are ramping up advocacy campaigns.”
Missouri Regulators Approve KCP&L Solar Plant In Jackson County.
The AP (3/3) reports that Missouri regulators approved a request from Kansas City Power & LIght to “construct, own, operate and maintain a solar plant near Greenwood.” The Missouri Public Service Commission “said the plant will be a pilot program to give the utility experience in designing, constructing, and operating a solar plant, with a goal of building more solar facilities in the future.”
The Kansas City (MO) Star (3/3, Hack) reports that the solar plant’s “prospective 4,700 megawatt-hours of energy a year would be enough to power 440 customers.” The solar plant will be located on 12 acres already owned by KCP&L as part of its Greenwood Energy Center. The Kansas City (MO) Business Journal (3/3, Kaberline, Subscription Publication) also provides coverage.
INL’s Peters Sees STEM Education As Key To Future Workforce.
The Idaho Falls (ID) Post Register (3/3, Clark) reports that Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters told a joint meeting of the House Environment, Energy and Technology and the Senate State Affairs committees that INL faces a shortage of qualified candidates. “Peters thinks continued investment in Idaho’s education system, particularly in science education, is vital to the future of both the lab and the state.” Peters “hopes to expand opportunities in the near future by increasing its participation with private industry” but expansion has been hampered by “chronic delays” at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, the Post-Register reports.
Georgia Tech, Non-Profit Coordinate STEM Career Fair For K-12 Students.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (3/3, Rachelle) reports that on Saturday, the Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link, Inc. (SEM Link) organization will host its 9th Annual STEM Career Fair and Exhibition from 10 AM to 2 PM at the George Institute of Technology. The event strives to “provide K-12 students” the “opportunity to explore careers and meet and interact with professionals in” STEM fields.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Whitfield Rejects Clean Energy Push.