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

Leading the News

Senate Passes Broad Energy Infrastructure Modernization Bill.

In an 85-12 vote Wednesday, the Senate approved “its first ambitious energy bill in a decade,” the AP  (4/20, Daly) reports. The “far-reaching” measure “reflects significant changes in US oil and natural gas production over the past decade and boosts alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.” In addition, it would “speed federal approval of projects to export liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia.” The measure must be reconciled with a version passed by the House that “boosts fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas,” and which drew a veto threat from the President. According to the Christian Science Monitor  (4/20, Beck), the bill “would promote upgrades in the power grid to respond in energy production changes since 2007, including increasing levels of wind and solar power production,” and “authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a victory for environmental groups, and the building of ports for shipping American-sourced natural gas overseas, a victory for the fossil fuel industry.”

The New York Times  (4/20, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that the bill was approved “largely by avoiding the hot-button topics of climate change and oil and gas exploration that have thwarted other measures.” The bill “includes provisions to promote renewable energy, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and to cut some planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution.”

The Houston Chronicle  (4/20, Osborne) reports that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has offered his tentative support to the Senate energy bill. The Wall Street Journal  (4/20, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that Congress is now planning to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House version contains measures that the White House has expressed concern about, such as a more expedited review process for natural-gas exports, but has not threatened to veto. If the bill includes House legislation and becomes law, the Washington Post  (4/20, Mooney) reports, it would “unleash billions in research and development on new energy technologies, including energy storage, hydrokinetic and marine energy and advancing the electric grid.” Many of these initiatives “have substantial aisle-crossing appeal.”

Energy Bill Includes Measure Promoting Fuel-Efficient Vehicles. The Detroit Free Press  (4/20, Spangler) reports that the energy bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes a provision which reauthorizes the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Vehicle Technologies Program which works with automakers to improve fuel efficiency, “including through research into electric- and natural gas-powered vehicles as well as hybrid and other systems.” The Detroit News  (4/20, Laing) adds that the $1.6 billion Vehicle Technologies Program was reauthorized through 2020.

Senate Bill Includes Energy-Efficiency Measures. The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (4/20, Koff) reports the Senate energy bill includes energy efficiency measures that would require DOE to support new building codes, “direct Federal housing authorities to authorize energy- and water-saving pilot projects in apartment buildings,” and boost efficiency-related job training and efficiency in manufacturing and appliances.

Senate Energy Bill Recognized Biomass As Renewable, Carbon-Neutral. The AP  (4/20) reports the Senate energy bill would also direct federal agencies “to establish policies that recognize electricity generated by biomass plants as renewable and carbon-neutral.” Biomass plants are “struggling to compete in the energy market” amid low natural gas prices.

Energy Bill Boosts DOE’s Cybersecurity Mission. The Hill  (4/20, Bennett) reports Senate energy bill includes cyber security provisions that would give the DOE “greater power to intervene during a cyber crisis, authorize funds through 2025 to establish cyber-testing programs and conduct cyber research and better delineate the DOE’s overall role in defending the grid from digital intrusions.” The cyber passages represent a “significant addition over the last energy bill that passed Congress in 2007,” which contained “only passing references to cybersecurity.” The measure “emphasizes that DOE is the primary cybersecurity agency for the energy sector” and authorizes $100 million each year through 2025 “to conduct research and develop digital defense testing programs.”

Higher Education

Undersecretary Mitchell Grades Administration “Incomplete” On College Goals.

US News & World Report  (4/20) reports Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell “gave the Obama administration an ‘incomplete’ on the subject of college access, completion and equity” in remarks at the Arizona State University Global Silicon Valley Summit in San Diego. Mitchell said, “This is a long game, and I think we’ve gotten a number of things started that will continue to bear fruit.” Mitchell “specifically harped on the limited progress that’s been made in meeting the president’s goal of having the most college graduates in the world by 2020.” He said, “The completion crisis is real and it’s devastating for individuals and it’s quite problematic for us as a society.”

UC Davis Chancellor Apologizes Over Internet Scrubbing.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/20, Branson-Potts) reports University of California Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi “has apologized for the university’s hiring of image consultants to bury Internet references to a pepper-spraying incident of student protesters by campus police.” In a statement, she said, “The university’s identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps. Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize.” UC Davis “paid at least $175,000 to a consultant to clean up its online reputation.”

From ASEE
SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Three ASEE Members Presented with Gordon Prize
Arthur Heinricher, Richard Vaz, and Kristin Wobbe of WPI join their colelague Diran Apelian in accpeting the prestigious award from the National Academy of Engineering. The Gordon Prize is awarded annually by the NAE to recognize new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders.

Research and Development

Virtual Reality Applications Can Potentially Help With Nuclear Fission Research.

Engineering  (4/20, Wheeler) reports the hype of virtual reality is “at an all-time high” with the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. One possible use for VR is to design for manufacturing, maintenance or operations. Visionary Render from Virtalis “renders massive and complex VR models in real-time stereoscopic 3D.” It is also a “collaborative, sharable sandbox that brings true 3D experimentation throughout the product lifecycle,” according to the company. The article mentions Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is among the organizations that are beta testing the new technology. In particular, Lawrence is using it to “push into new areas of nuclear fusion research.”

Lomborg: Paris Deal Will Accomplish Little, Green Energy R&D Needed.

In an op-ed in USA Today  (4/21, Lomborg), director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center Bjorn Lomborg writes that “well-intentioned treaty” set to be signed by world leaders “is a hugely expensive way of doing very little.” Lomborg writes that “by the United Nations’ own reckoning, this treaty will only achieve less than 1% of the emission cuts needed to meet its target temperatures.” Lomborg urges “a massive increase in green energy technology research and development,” calling it the “most effective and efficient way to find new breakthrough energy technologies that will be so cheap, they can outcompete fossil fuels.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Michigan Attorney General Announces First Criminal Charges Tied To Flint Water Crisis.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that three officials have been charged with both felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses for their alleged roles in causing the Flint water crisis. The announcement was the lead story on all three network evening news programs and was a major news story throughout the media. The officials are accused of failing to order anti-corrosion chemicals to be added to Flint’s water supply, which may have prevented the city’s water from becoming contaminated with lead. The officials are also accused of manipulating the results of tests for lead in Flint’s water.

ABC World News Tonight (4/20, lead story, 2:25, Llamas) reported the three officials facing charges for allegedly manipulating the lead test results in Flint are: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) supervisor Stephen Busch, DEQ engineer Michael Prysby, and Flint water quality supervisor Michael Glasgow. The CBS Evening News (4/20, lead story, 3:05, Pelley) reported Attorney General Schuette said of the defendants, “They failed in their responsibilities to protect the health and safety of families of Flint. They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all.” Schuette also said that more charges will be filed as the investigation continues. NBC Nightly News (4/20, lead story, 3:05, Holt) reported that Schuette also said that no individual is off the table when asked if Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will face criminal charges in connection to the crisis.

On its website, CNN  (4/20, McLaughlin, Shoichet) reports Busch and Prysby both pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday, but Glasgow has not yet appeared in court. The AP  (4/20) reports Busch is currently on paid leave after being suspended from his position at DEQ, and Prysby recently moved to another position in DEQ.

The New York Times  (4/20, Davey, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) outlines in detail the criminal charges filed against the three officials and the basis for those charges. Bush and Prysby are charged with misconduct in office for authorizing Flint to switch its water source to the Flint River when they knew the city’s water treatment plant, run by Glasgow, was unable to properly treat the water. The two DEQ officials are also charged with evidence tampering and “willfully and knowingly misleading” the EPA and Genesee County health department by allegedly manipulating lead test results. They are also charged with violating Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act for failing to order anti-corrosion chemicals for Flint, which could have prevented the water from being contaminated with lead from Flint’s pipes. Glasgow is charged with evidence tampering and “willful neglect of duty.” MLive (MI)  (4/20, Ridley) reports the charges were filed in Genesee District Court and authorized by Judge Tracy Collier-Nix. The article mentions that Prysby is accused of misleading the EPA about whether the city was treating the water and he is also accused of misleading the Genesee County Health Department during its investigation of the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak while the city was getting its water from the Flint River. The article points out that records released to the public show that both Busch and Glasgow raised concerns about the use of the Flint River as the city’s primary water source before the switch was made.

Legislation Introduced In US Senate To Fund Improvements To Water Infrastructure Across US. The Detroit Free Press  (4/20, Spangler) reports Michigan’s two US Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow introduced legislation that they say could provide over $70 billion to improve water infrastructure across the US. The bill includes provisions to replace lead water lines in public water systems as well as private homes owned by low-income people.

House Panel Advances Energy And Water Bill.

E&E News PM  (4/20, Subscription Publication) report that the House Appropriations Committee approved an energy and water spending bill that “would slash efficiency and renewable research programs below the White House request, increase fossil fuel spending and provide a funding boost for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear repository in Nevada.” The bill would block the Administration from implementing its recent Clean Water Act jurisdictional rule and raise funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to a record $6.1 billion. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, would be funded at $1.825 billion, about a billion below the White House request, while ARPA-E would see an increase to $306 million. The bill restores DOE’s fusion programs to $450 million. Republicans expressed “outrage” over a provision to provide aid to Flint over its lead-contamination water crisis, with one lawmaker calling the move a “publicity stunt.”

House Transportation Committee Approves Pipeline Safety Bill.

News outlets report that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the pipeline safety bill, which reauthorizes the PHMSA for four years, on Wednesday. Transport Topics  (4/21, Mulero) reports that bill will now move to the floor of the House. The article explains that the bill calls on PHMSA to “establish minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and put together a national pipeline safety database.” The article adds that the bill would also establish a group of PHMSA officers, state officials, and industry leaders to “come up with recommendations on how to improve information sharing.”

Morning Consult  (4/20, Glover) adds that two amendments were added to the bill by voice vote. One amendment aims to “improve how PHMSA runs its research-and-development program” and another amendment requires “the Transportation Department to submit a report every 90 days instead of 60 days to certain House committees regarding the implementation of statutory mandates.”

Argus Media  (4/21) highlights that the bill also grants PHMSA “emergency order authority in part to bypass a lengthy rulemaking process that it says does not keep up with technological changes in the industry.” The article mentions that PHMSA pointed out that the FRA has similar powers. Under the bill, PHMSA will now have “60 days after the bill becomes law to issue temporary rules for issuing emergency orders and another 210 days to complete final rulemaking on its emergency powers.”

Law360  (4/20, Chiem) also reports on the story.

Administration Warns Republicans Against Amendment To Defund Clean Water Rule.

The Hill  (4/20, Cama) reports the Administration warned Senate Republicans if they attach an amendment to defund the Clean Water Rule to the spending bill for energy and water programs, they are putting the entire bill at risk. A “senior administration official” told The Hill if Republicans attach such an amendment to the legislation, the President will veto it.

Elementary/Secondary Education

California STEM Students Take Part In Robotics Competition.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/20, Woolsey) reports on a STEM robotics project at California’s Vista View Middle School this month. Students “worked over the school year to create their robots, said Sandi Lewis, a STEM teacher with the district who acted as mentor to the kids throughout the project.” Lewis said, “I think it really teaches them to think critically. It gives them programming and computer science skills, as well as engineering skills, because they have to think of the task involved and design the robot to complete that task. A huge element of it is collaboration and how well they can work together.”

River Ridge Royal Robotics Team To Compete In FIRST Robotics World Championships. The Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (4/20, Miller) reports Tampa’s River Ridge Royal Robotics team will compete at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics World Championships starting this week. FIRST is a nonprofit organization that runs mentor-based STEM programs and competitions for students.

Code-Teaching Robot Root Debuts. The Boston Globe  (4/20, Burke) has a feature on Root, a code-teaching robot built by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. The “six-sided robot-on-wheels made its formal debut Monday at a prominent education technology summit in San Diego.” The robot “communicates via bluetooth with native software loaded onto a tablet. It has magnetic wheels that let it ‘drive’ determinedly across classroom whiteboards, and some 20 sensors let it interact with the environment and respond to students’ commands.”

California STEM Students Take Part In Robotics Competition.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/20, Woolsey) reports on a STEM robotics project at California’s Vista View Middle School this month. Students “worked over the school year to create their robots, said Sandi Lewis, a STEM teacher with the district who acted as mentor to the kids throughout the project.” Lewis said, “I think it really teaches them to think critically. It gives them programming and computer science skills, as well as engineering skills, because they have to think of the task involved and design the robot to complete that task. A huge element of it is collaboration and how well they can work together.”

Students To Compete In C-STEM Competition.

The Detroit Free Press  (4/20, Bethencourt) reports, “Kids will have a chance to test themselves in a wide range of creative thinking abilities at the C-STEM Midwest Competition at Cobo Center on Saturday.” Students from pre-K through Grade 12 “will compete in activities that include robotics, innovation, computer programming, art, film-making, and photography.”

Wisconsin Students Attend Research Conference.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (4/20, Johnson) reports that students from 17 schools across Wisconsin took part in a student research conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “part of a collaborative project funded by the National Institutes of Health in which university professors and high school science teachers work together to help students pursue real scientific questions.”

Code-Teaching Robot Root Debuts.

The Boston Globe  (4/20, Burke) has a feature on Root, a code-teaching robot built by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. The “six-sided robot-on-wheels made its formal debut Monday at a prominent education technology summit in San Diego.” The robot “communicates via bluetooth with native software loaded onto a tablet. It has magnetic wheels that let it ‘drive’ determinedly across classroom whiteboards, and some 20 sensors let it interact with the environment and respond to students’ commands.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Northeastern University Lands $3 Million State Grant For Nanotech Consortium.
Tennessee Senate Committee Approves Bill Defunding Several UT Diversity Positions.
Navy Scientists And Engineers Develop Dive Buddy To Aid Divers.
VW Cheat Devices Originally Developed In 1999 By Audi.
Senate Expected To Pass Energy Bill This Week.
Federal Court Says Opponents Of Kansas Science Standards Lack Standing.

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