Leading the News
GOP AGs Warn Democrats Of Double-Edged Sword On Prosecuting Climate Change.
The Washington Times (6/16, Richardson) reports a letter headed by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and signed by 12 other GOP AGs urges their Democratic counterparts “to stop using their law-enforcement power against fossil-fuel companies and” other climate-change dissenters. The letter argues that if Democratic AGs can pursue fraud charges against those who minimize the risks of climate change, then “the same goes for” those who exaggerate the risks of climate change. The Times mentions that 16 Democratic AGs and one independent on Mar. 29 formed a coalition called “AGs United for Clean Power.” The Republican AGs’ letter said the “coalition itself shows that the attorneys general ‘have taken the unusual step of aligning themselves with the competition of their investigative targets,’ namely the solar and wind energy.”
Exxon Winning Support In Push Back Against Climate Change Probes. The New York Times (6/16, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports Exxon Mobil has “increasingly” pushed back against subpoenas for research statements about climate change. The company on Wednesday filed a motion in federal court to block a subpoena demand by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and followed the motion up on Thursday with a petition in state court asking “to recuse Ms. Healey’s office from pursuing the investigation because ‘it is impermissibly biased’ against the company.” Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, Healey’s spokeswoman, said Exxon’s legal efforts are “an unprecedented effort to limit the ability of state attorneys general to investigate fraud and unfair business practices.” The Times says that Exxon’s moves have won the company “the support of lawmakers and friendly state attorneys general who have attacked the investigations as flashy political prosecutions dressed up as legal inquiries.”
ED Takes First Steps Toward Revoking ACICS’ Accreditation Authority.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (6/16) reports that after a year of growing criticism of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, ED “has recommended that the accrediting agency lose its authority as a gatekeeper of federal financial aid.” ED staffers “laid out 21 areas where they say the accreditor, known as ACICS, has failed to follow federal rules.” The piece reports that it could take two years or more to remove the accreditor’s authority, but notes that the move could impact 250 for-profit institutions with some 900 campuses.
Calling ED’s move “extraordinary,” Inside Higher Ed (6/16) reports that ACICS was “the gatekeeper for $4.76 billion in federal aid spending last year,” and says that the agency has been widely criticized for accrediting Corinthian Colleges Inc. despite the allegations that the firm defrauded students. Albuquerque (NM) Business First (6/16) and the Pittsburgh Business Times (6/16) also cover this story.
WSJournal: ED Targets For-Profit Schools With “Borrower Defense” Rule.
The Wall Street Journal (6/16, Subscription Publication) editorializes against the ED’s new proposed “borrower defense” rule, which would allow borrowers to discharge student loans if a court renders a legal judgment against their school or if their school violated a contract. The proposal, which the Journal says targets for-profit colleges, widely expands what can prompt debt relief by allowing debt relief if the school’s ads are misleading. Furthermore, neither the government nor borrowers must prove harm by the school’s alleged misrepresentation. The Secretary of Education, not a judge, would rule on appeals and could impose fines or cut off schools’ access to federal student aid, which may force many out of business. The Journal says the Administration wants that to happen, and would then protect itself from student backlash by having taxpayers foot the bill.
SCOTUS Expected To Rule Soon In Fisher Affirmative Action Case.
The Washington Post (6/16, Anderson) reports that as a year that featured “extraordinary debate on questions about racial inequality” on college campuses comes to a close, SCOTUS “is expected soon to issue a ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, in a case called Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.” College administrators “are hoping the court will leave intact an admissions system allowing colleges — with exceptions for public institutions in some states — to consider race as one factor in a ‘holistic’ review of an application.”
Research and Development
BAE Demonstrates Virtual Reality Technology To Ease Design Process.
Military Embedded Systems (6/16, Iriarte) reports from Eurosatory that BAE Systems is demonstrating its Terrier Combat Engineer vehicle with a virtual reality (VR) headset, which aims to “speed up the design and development process for new vehicle parts.” BAE Systems Land Technology Lead John Puddy explained, “being able to ‘virtually’ bolt a new part to a vehicle means you can see exactly how it would fit. You can even sit in the vehicle like one of the crew and check it doesn’t affect your performance – our software will even superimpose your hands in real-time into the virtual world, so you ‘touch’ the vehicle.” BAE also plans to employ the VR technology “to provide more cost-effective training for soldiers and their vehicles.”
Columbia Researchers Develop New Way To Combat VR Sickness.
Phone Arena (6/16) reports researchers from Columbia University Engineering’s Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab have developed a “workaround for VR sickness” that “very gradually places a field of view (FOV) restriction on the user’s vision.” Phone Arena notes that the FOV restriction was tested “on a group of 30 people” over a series of waypoints, with “all 30 testers” experiencing less discomfort with the FOV restriction enabled.
DARPA To Demo STOIC PNT System Project.
ExecutiveGov (6/16, Adams) reports DARPA plans to demonstrate its Spatial, Temporal, and Orientation Information in Contested Environments (STOIC) project at DARPA Demo Day, a backup very low frequency (VLF) PNT system in case of lost acces to the GPS network. DARPA strategic technology officer Lin Haas said DARPA is working with the Army Communications Electronics Research Development and Engineering Command to develop the system “for naval surface and aviation” support.
Aviation Week: Companies Should Revive R&D Spending.
Aviation Week (6/17) editorializes that US defense contractors “have tilted the balance way too far in favor of Wall Street” in recent years, calling out Northrop Grumman specifically for returning “billions of dollars to shareholders through massive stock repurchases, even as its sales declined.” Aviation Week reports Northrop CEO Wes Bush has pledged to invest in research and development, calling it “encouraging,” but says the half percentage point increase “will merely catch up to” Boeing’s level of 3% of sales. Aviation Week says companies have responsibilities to invest in R&D, especially at a time when the US and its allies is facing a “facing a volatile security environment and ascendant and increasingly assertive Chinese and Russian militaries.”
Bruno: Northrop R&D Increase May Be Inevitable. In an op-ed in Aviation Week (6/17) Michael Bruno comments on Northrop CEO Wes Bush’s announcement the company will increase research and development spending, and says DoD officials have been “warning for years” that the US risks losing its technological lead, and has been trying to “get the legacy industry to ante up, willingly or grudgingly, after years of prioritizing shareholder returns.” Bruno quotes defense consultant Jim McAleese, who said, “Northrop was harvesting cash for investors as Defense Department funding fell but is now ready to invest as defense funding grows.” Bruno notes Bush “made it clear” the company “will not sacrifice operating profit margins to fund so-called independent R&D (IRAD) spending.”
Ford Having Trouble Overhauling F-150 To Meet New Emission, Fuel Economy Regs.
Bloomberg News (6/16, Lippert) reports that Ford has spent six years and $1 billion giving its “crown jewel,” the F-150 pickup, “a new aluminum body, smaller turbocharged engines and a lighter and stronger steel frame – all with an eye to appease U.S. regulators demanding cleaner vehicles.” However, “some versions of the new F-150 still don’t meet the government’s 2016 emission and fuel-economy mandates,” and in coming years, “the targets will be much more stringent.” The piece explains that the model “accounts for 31 percent of the company’s North American sales and half of its profit in the region.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Demand For Solar-Equipped Housing Shifting Industry Financing Mechanisms.
MarketWatch (6/16) reports on the shifting landscape of solar financing as the demand for solar-equipped housing rises. Companies that previously offered leases are now are also giving out loans to homeowners. GTM Research said in a report, “Every solar financing company that used to earlier offer leases has introduced or is planning to introduce a loan, and an entirely separate group of pure-play loan providers has formed.” MarketWatch notes that Fannie Mae last week announced its HomeStyle Energy Program, which allows homeowners to borrow an additional 15 percent to finance their solar or other energy-efficiency systems.
The NRDC (6/16) writes in its “Expert Blog” about Fannie Mae’s new HomeStyle Energy loan and says it “offers promising opportunities.” The NRDC examines the loan and says it’s “great news” Fannie Mae is actively looking for ways to assist customers with energy efficiency. “Fannie Mae has extraordinary reach into the housing markets and the capacity to engage in what I think of as ‘agile’ product development – continually improving a product, such as a loan, based on how the it is used (or isn’t used), in this case by lenders and borrowers. This continual refinement is needed to craft effective solutions.” The blog adds, “More utilities and efficiency professionals should actively seek to be part of that process by working with lenders to help homeowners explore options to fund home efficiency work.”
Three Colorado Cities’ Water Contaminated With Perfluorinated Chemicals.
The Denver Post (6/15) reports that three Colorado cities with a combined population of some 80,000 people have drinking water contaminated with levels of perfluorinated chemicals “at levels the EPA deems dangerous.” The chemicals, often used to fight petroleum fires, “rank among the worst in an expanding multitude of unregulated contaminants that federal scientists are detecting in city water supplies, including hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and anti-depressants.”
Harvard Scholar Defends Geoengineering Research.
Bloomberg News (6/16, Lichtman) reports that Harvard physicist David Keith is facing criticism for his research on the prospect of “spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere that act as tiny mirrors.” Critics “argue that the potential unknown effects could be dire,” but Keith says we need to know more about geoengineering before we dismiss it.
EPA Moves Forward With Clean Power Plan Incentive Program Despite Court Hold.
The Hill (6/16, Cama) reports that the EPA is moving forward with its Clean Energy Incentive Program, which is meant to be the “carrot to the stick of the Clean Power Plan” by providing states with compliance credits for renewable energy and efficiency projects. Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s air pollution office, said that “Taking these steps will help cut carbon pollution by encouraging investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will help give our kids and grandkids a healthier and safer future.” Republicans have taken issue with the program as long as the Clean Power Plan remains under a judicial stay, claiming that it is a “last-ditch effort to scare states into spending scarce resources complying with a rule that could very well be overturned.”
DOE Proposes Efficiency Rules For Manufactured Housing.
The Hill (6/16, Devaney) reports new efficiency rules are being proposed by the Energy Department for manufactured housing. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE announced yesterday “it is looking to establish new energy conservation standards for these mobile homes.” The public will have a chance to comment for 60 days.
Solar Facility Approved For Site Of Ex-steel Plant In Kokomo.
The AP (6/16) reports plans are progressing “for construction of a 26-acre solar farm at the site of a former scrap steel plant” in Kokomo, Indiana. The proposal has been approved by the city’s Plan Commission. The proposal from Inovateus Solar is an “estimated $10 million project with 21,000 solar panels.” The solar plant “will go on a portion of a former Continental Steel plant, which underwent a federal project costing more than $40 million to demolish the factory and remove tons of lead- and PCB-contaminated waste.” The construction of the solar farm will be finished this fall, according to the company.
OCR Issues Guidance On Gender Equity In CTE Courses.
Inside Higher Ed (6/16) reports in continued coverage that ED’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance for “high school and college officials on gender equity in career and technical education programs” offering “examples of how schools and colleges may need to reconsider policies.”
The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader (6/16) reports that ED is telling schools “that women and men should have equal access to career and technical education (CTE) programs as a matter of civil rights.” The piece explains that the letter “provides guidelines, not additional legal requirements, for schools to improve gender equity.”
STEAM Program Prepares Modesto Kids For Kindergarten.
The Modesto (CA) Bee (6/16, Austin) reports on a three week summer program at Orville Wright Elementary School in south Modesto geared toward transitioning 24 children from preschool to kindergarten. According to the Modesto Bee, “the Modesto City Schools’ Child Development Programs Department runs the program, which treats kids to hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering, arts and math – known in teaching circles as STEAM.”
Long Island Robotics Team Takes First Place In Legoland Competition.
The East Setauket (NY) Times Beacon Record (6/16, Keegan) reports on the GearHeadz robotics team which began in a basement in Long Island, and ended with a national trophy at California’s Legoland. According to the East Setauket Times Beacon Record, the competition was for students to develop solutions environmental hazards, and the GearHeadz developed “biodegradable bags that would limit the mass death of sea turtles and other marine life from accidental ingestion of plastic.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• LIGO Scientists Detect Second Gravitational Wave.
• ED Recommends Stripping ACICS Of Accreditation Power.
• Defense Officials Say Role For Cybersecurity Has Expanded.
• Federal Officials Call For Focus On Attracting Women To STEM Fields.
• Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Blocking A 2007 Minnesota Clean Energy Law.
• ED Releases Dear Colleague Letter On Gender Equity In CTE Programs.