Leading the News
Media Analyses: Obama Drilling Ban Cannot Easily Be Undone By Trump.
While the story was not noted on the major network newscasts, the President’s executive move to ban drilling along wide sections of the Atlantic and Arctic seaboard generated extensive – and largely favorable – print and online coverage. As the New York Times (12/20, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports, Obama “invoked an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which he said gives him the authority to act unilaterally.” Other reports cast Obama as seeking to make it as hard as possible for his successor to undo his decision, and a number of analyses, in fact, conclude the final call on whether Obama’s designations can be reversed is likely to fall on the courts. NPR (12/20) reports Obama banned two areas: one in the Atlantic encompassing 6,000 square miles stretching from New England to Virginia. The second area is in the Arctic off the northern coast of Alaska. It covers the entirety of the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea, except for a strip along the northern coast where production activity already exists. The AP (12/20) reports the statute says “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.” Fox News (12/20) said “Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor,” while CNN (12/20, Liptak) sees Obama’s actions preventing “any future president from taking swift action to reopen oil exploration in restricted areas” and CNBC (12/20, DiChristopher) predicts the issue “could get tied up” in court “throughout much” of the next four years.
Bloomberg Politics (12/20, Wingrove) similarly reports that “the move…is sure to draw a legal challenge,” and that “there is scant legal precedent on the matter.” President-elect Trump “may rescind Obama’s order, but the 1953 statute Obama is invoking doesn’t include an explicit provision for reversal and that question could be tied up in court for years.” The New York Times (12/20, Davenport, Subscription Publication) says the issue “will almost certainly be decided by the federal courts,” TIME (12/20, Worland) that the decision “may be impossible to undo – at least in the short term,” and the Daily Intelligencer (NY) (12/20, Raymond) that “Trump would have a harder time reversing this ban.” Along those lines, the Washington Post (12/20, Fears, Eilperin) quotes a “White House aide” who said that under the statute “there is no authority for subsequent presidents to un-withdraw,” and the Los Angeles Times (12/20, Halper, Yardley) a “senior administration official” who said “the White House was ‘quite confident’ that the decision could not be undone by Trump, noting that the law specifies no provision for reversal.” USA Today (12/20, Korte) indicates, however, that “the law doesn’t say such lease withdrawals are permanent” either, and “it’s silent about whether a president can return withdrawn waters to oil production.”
GAO: Feds Tap Social Security Checks To Recover Unpaid Student Debt.
The Wall Street Journal (12/20, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that a GAO report released Tuesday says the Federal government is increasingly tapping Americans’ Social Security checks to recover unpaid student debt. In a trend that is likely to increase as more baby boomer retire, the government has collected $1.1 billion from Social Security recipients to cover unpaid student loans since 2001. In fiscal 2015, most affected recipients were age 50 or older and receiving disability benefits.
The Washington Post (12/20, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the practice of garnishment “exacerbates an already precarious financial situation for the 67,300 older borrowers who receive benefits below the poverty guideline,” quoting Senate Special Committee on Aging member Sen. Claire McCaskill in saying, “We need to make sure that we have adjusted the ability of the government to recover those loan amounts in a way that is not spiraling people into poverty.” McCaskill expressed intention to introduce legislation barring Social Security from garnishment if doing so would drop recipients below the poverty line.
The Huffington Post (12/20, Carter) reports the “federal government is profiting” from the practice, as “every time a debt collector scrapes a Social Security check, the U.S. Department of Education collects $15.” If “tens of thousands of elderly Americans are living in poverty despite doing exactly what American presidents have told them to do for decades ― namely, getting an education,” the Post says, “then something is dreadfully wrong.” The Washington Times (12/20, Dinan) and MarketWatch (12/20) also cover this story.
ABA Sues ED Over Changes To Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness.
The New York Times (12/20, Lieber, Subscription Publication) reports the American Bar Association and four attorneys have sued ED over their exclusion from a program which offers student loan forgiveness to people who work in a public service job for at least ten years. The Times explains that the crux of the issue is that the plaintiffs had initially been approved for the program, but “the entity servicing their loans reversed course” on whether their jobs were in public service, “effectively ousting them from the program.”
The Washington Post (12/20, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program “wipes away federal student debt for people in the public sector after they have made 120 qualifying monthly payments, or 10 years’ worth of payments.” The Post explains the lawsuit accuses ED of “inexplicably changing the eligibility requirement for employment that clearly counts as public service after approving the work.” The piece cites ABA President Linda A. Klein saying that the move undermines such programs, which are often used as a recruiting tool by qualifying employers. ED spokesperson Kelly Leon “said the agency is ‘committed to implementing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program in accordance with the final regulations as prescribed by statute.’”
Report: More Students Enrolling In Engineering Programs.
MarketWatch (12/20) reports that according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “the number of students enrolled in an engineering major jumped 4% between 2015 and 2016,” compared with “a drop of more than 3% in students majoring in history and English and a drop of 6.1% in students majoring in foreign languages, literatures and linguistics.”
New Mexico Senator, UNM Provost Tout Funding For Science Education.
The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (12/21, Shepard) reports the “federal military budget that was approved this month includes millions for weapons research and science education.” US Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and University of New Mexico Provost Chauoki Abadala said the funds will “strengthen the ‘pipeline’ of students from New Mexico public schools to UNM to jobs at the research lab and other military and Department of Energy laboratories in the state.” For example, “The university this year increased its partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, creating more internships and opportunities for students to work and learn at the labs, bringing Sandia researchers in to teach and turn research into actual products.”
Research and Development
NSF Gives University At Buffalo $1.2 Million Grant For Autonomous Car Research.
The Buffalo (NY) News (12/20) reports the National Science Foundation has given New York’s University at Buffalo a $1.2 million grant “to create a new research facility for self-driving and connected cars.” The project “will sync the university’s existing driving, traffic and wireless networking simulators to a specially-equipped vehicle, as well as to sensors and other instruments that will be installed along a mile of North Campus roads.”
UPitt To Help Lead DOE-backed Advancement Manufacturing Institute.
The Pittsburgh Business Times (12/20, Nuzum) reports that University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has joined the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment Manufacturing Institute. The institute is the newest member of DOE’s Manufacturing USA Institutes. Pitt will be responsible for “strategic road mapping and research oversight within RAPID’s natural gas upgrading application focus area.”
Japanese Google Lunar X Prize Team Will Fly Its Rover On TeamIndus’ Lander.
Space News (12/20, Subscription Publication) reports that Japan’s Team Hakuto, a group “competing for the Google Lunar X Prize,” has announed that it will fly its rover on TeamIndus’ lander, “after its initial partner dropped out of the competition.” X Prize Foundation’s Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer said, “We’re proud to verify Hakuto’s launch agreement and are pleased to see two Google Lunar X Prize teams collaborating on this mission to the moon. … The purpose of this prize was, in part, to foster collaboration in the private sector and this is a great demonstration of teams coming together in the next giant leap in space exploration.” TeamIndus plans to purchase a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for use in the competition.
Michigan To Invest $1 Million In Stryker Expansion.
The Detroit Free Press (12/20) reports medical technology company Stryker “is planning a $130 million expansion project outside Kalamazoo expected to create 105 new jobs for engineers and scientists over three years.” State officials contributed $1 million in state economic development support on Tuesday “with a unanimous vote from the Michigan Strategic Fund.” Stryker’s medical instruments division is planning “a new corporate campus with a customer center, a showroom, a research and development testing, and a bio-skills lab for research and new product development.”
Utility Companies Brace For EVs.
The Wall Street Journal (12/20, Jakab, Subscription Publication) discusses the opportunities and challenges for electric utilities posed by the growing adoption of electric vehicles. The Journal highlights research which predicts the bulk of the county’s transportation needs could be met with EVs powered by current generation capacity as long as the vehicles are charged during off-peak hours, but also that EV charging on a wider scale could also easily overload the electric grid. The article suggests that regulators will have to set policy that will allow utilities to profit from the increased demand for electricity in order to encourage the sector to invest in expanding the EV charging infrastructure. As an example of utilities increasing interest in capturing those opportunities, the article mentions that Georgia Power has launched a pilot EV rate plan that offers a discounted rate for charging during off-peak hours.
Engineering and Public Policy
NextEra Energy, First Solar Commission Silver State South Solar Facility.
Power Engineering (12/20) reports NextEra Energy Resources and First Solar Inc. have commissioned the 250-megawatt Silver State South solar energy center in Nevada. Power produced by Silver State “will be purchased by Southern California Edison under a 20-year power agreement.”
Pittsburgh Advancing Building Energy Benchmarking Program.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (12/20) reports that Pittsburgh is advancing an energy benchmarking program. Pittsburgh enacted a voluntary energy benchmarking program in October 2016 and buildings that have reported have shown reductions to energy and water use and transportation emissions. “Unlike Philadelphia, Pittsburgh’s new law carries no fines for building owners that fail to submit the required information,” relying instead on public pressure and the benefits of cost savings.
EPA Report On Hydraulic Fracturing Draws Criticism From Both Sides.
CBS News (12/20) says that a new report from the EPA indicates that hydraulic fracturing may negatively impact drinking water. While the American Petroleum Institute disagrees with the report and says that the underlying data shows fracking is environmentally safe, the EPA said that there are circumstances that can make ground water vulnerable. The EIA indicates that hydraulic fracturing accounts for 60 percent of domestic oil production in the US. Natural News (12/20) reports the new report has drawn criticism from both sides of the debate. Supporters of the drilling method say the Obama Administration and the EPA are playing politics and sending a “parting shot.” Environmental activists say the EPA failed to gather enough evidence to draw a stronger conclusion than hydraulic fracturing “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”
Oklahoma Releases New Fracking Guidelines To Control Earthquake Risk.
Reuters (12/20, Hampton) reports the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Geological Survey have released the first state guidelines intended to decrease the risk of earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracking “in its oil-rich shale formations.” The guidelines are meant for the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (SCOOP) and Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties (STACK) formations, which are expected “to account for most new oil and gas activity in the state.” Reuters says in STACK and SCOOP, which “produce much less water than the Mississippian Lime formation,” multiple seismic anomalies have been recorded in the area. The Tulsa (OK) World (12/20, Jones) quotes OGS director Jeremy Boak, who references such occurrences in a prepared statement saying “that more recent small seismic events outside of a large area of interest may also be linked to fracking.” Boak said: “We have enough information to develop a plan aimed at reducing the risk of these smaller events as operations commence…Unlike the strong earthquake activity in areas of the (area of interest) linked to disposal activity, response to seismic activity that might be related to hydraulic fracturing can be more precisely defined and rapidly implemented.”
The Oklahoman (12/20, Monies) reports the guidance was provided to operators on Friday, mandating “different actions” for “reported earthquakes greater than magnitude-2.5; magnitude-3.0; and magnitude-3.5.” The guidelines detail a two kilometer radius around an earthquake. Moreover, suspension of operations and a formal technical conference with regulators is required for earthquakes higher than magnitude-3.5. The AP (12/20, Talley) notes the energy industry indicated “producers are ready to implement the new guidelines.” Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association President Chad Warmington said: “As the data indicates, these seismic events have been small, rare and manageable,” adding the new guidelines would help monitor seismic activity and protect area development.
Morehouse Professor Creates STEM Computer Science Program For Local Students.
WGCL-TV Atlanta (12/20, Stinchcomb) reports Morehouse College computer science professor Kinnis Gosha “has developed a series of all-day workshops using Sphero Robotic balls” to help expose middle and high school students in Atlanta to STEM concepts. The piece quotes Gosha saying, “Not only do we want students to be made aware of computing careers and get hands-on coding experience, we also want them to get exposed to life on a college campus and meet current computer science students in the Atlanta University Center that work in my research lab.”
Houses Built By Career And Technical Center Students Presented To West Virginia Flood Victims.
The AP (12/20) reports that “some West Virginia residents whose homes were destroyed by last summer’s floods are getting new places to live.” The Department of Education “says 12 career and technical centers built 15 small homes for families whose lives were torn apart.” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin “says he’s ‘blown away’ by the design and the speed at which the students built the fully furnished homes.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Analysis: Future Of Clean Energy Under Trump Administration Unclear.
• ED Cuts Off Charlotte School Of Law From Federal Aid.
• NASA’s Robots Find Signs Of Water On Mars.
• BlackBerry Announces Autonomous Vehicle Software Development Plan.
• Environmentalists Urge LIPA To Advance Offshore Wind Development.
• Five Companies Add STEM Internships For Massachusetts Students.