Leading the News
EPA Finalizes Vehicle Fuel Standards Ahead Of Obama’s Last Week In Office.
On Friday, the EPA finalized its fuel-economy rules for the auto industry through 2025, solidifying one of the Administration’s central programs to reduce greenhouse emissions but also sparking outcry from the industry, which wanted more time for the rules to be implemented.
The New York Times (1/13, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) reported the EPA decision “was not unexpected,” but automakers say “it will most likely make it more difficult for a Trump administration to dial it back.” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, however, has pointed out that the industry can improve fuel economy without dramatically raising prices for consumers.
The Wall Street Journal (1/13, Harder, Spector, Subscription Publication) reported the final decision calls for car companies to sell light vehicles with an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which translates to around 40 miles per gallon in real-world conditions. The auto industry will likely lobby for a reprieve. Environmental advocates, on the other hand, celebrated the step toward better fuel efficiency.
The Washington Post (1/13, Mufson) reported “the standards would result in a fleetwide average fuel economy sticker values of 36 miles a gallon by the model year 2025, 10 miles a gallon higher than the current fleet average.” NHTSA still has to put out its own “five-year plan by 2018 or 2019” for the rule, which could pose a couple regulatory speed bumps for the rule, “but NHTSA has agreed with EPA assessments over the past few months and altering its conclusion could be difficult.”
USA Today (1/13, Snavely, Woodyard) reported NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind “said earlier this week that his agency, which oversees fuel economy regulations, will not complete its review of regulations before president-elect Donald Trump takes office.”
The AP (1/13, Krisher, Biesecker) reported EPA “completed a required midterm review of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards” back in November “and decided they should not be relaxed as requested by the auto industry.”
The Detroit Free Press (1/13, Snavely) reported industry group the Auto Alliance stated “The EPA decision is disappointing. Our fundamental priority remains striking the right balance to continue fuel economy gains and carbon reduction without compromising consumer affordability and vital auto-sector jobs.”
Education Department Approves $655 Million In Debt Relief For Defrauded Students.
The Wall Street Journal (1/13, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports the Department of Education on Friday announced that it approved erasure of more than $655 million in student loan debts from those claiming to have been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The Journal says 28,000 claims have been resolved with $558 million in relief offered to former Corinthian Colleges students, while 6,300 claims amounting to $97 million in relief have been offered so far to former ITT Technical Institutes students.
The Washington Post (1/13, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that on Friday ED “announced the automatic cancellation of $30 million in federal student loans held by 4,500 people who attended American Career Institute,” a shuttered career college that had campuses in Maryland and Massachusetts. The piece explains that the school admitted to having made “false and misleading representations to students, misstated job placement rates and employed instructors who were unauthorized to teach.” The piece reports Sen. Elizabeth Warren hailed the move, noting that she “has urged Education Secretary John B. King Jr. to automatically cancel the federal debt of students facing some form of debt collection as a result of borrowing to attend Corinthian Colleges.”
Inside Higher Ed (1/16) reports that the loan discharges are “part of a major push to provide loan relief to students that began with the closure of Corinthian Colleges two years ago.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (1/13) characterizes the move as “a shift from how the department has so far granted relief to defrauded borrowers, requiring them to apply for it.” This piece quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “This is real progress. And more work remains to ensure that relief continues for borrowers who are deceived by institutions that engage in fraud.”
University Of Louisville Faces Possible Loss Of Accreditation.
The Washington Post (1/13, Douglas-Gabriel, Higdon) reports Belle Wheelan, the head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, sent a letter to University of Louisville acting president Neville G. Pinto this week in which she clarified that the agency sanctioned the institution because Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has “considerable external control and influence” that “places in jeopardy board capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing a sound education program.” The Post notes that in June, Bevin issued a controversial executive order reorganizing the university’s governing board. Bevin appointed a new 13-member panel and indicated that he will fill 10 of the seats to “give a fresh start” to the school. The state’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, filed a lawsuit against the unilateral decision; however, recently-approved legislation could render the lawsuit moot. Meanwhile, the University of Louisville risks losing its accreditation along with federal student aid program participation and NCAA membership.
CFPB: Number Of Older Americans With Student Debt Rising Sharply.
The Washington Post (1/16, Bhattarai) reports that according to new data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “the number of older Americans taking on student debt on behalf of their children and grandchildren has quadrupled in the past decade.” Student loan consumers over 60 years of age now hold some $66.7 billion in student debt.
Research and Development
University Of Nebraska Researchers Studying Making Military Gates More Secure.
The Omaha (NE) World-Herald (1/15) reports that University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professors are studying how to make the gates of military bases more secure. The piece reports that the DOD’s “Transportation Command in Illinois has awarded a series of research contracts totaling $4.3 million to the Omaha-based National Strategic Research Institute to study safety and security at military entrance gates.” The professors are conducting the research at the Nebraska Transportation Center in Lincoln, where they are studying “traffic devices such as signs, barriers, speed bumps and humps, and pop-up barricades, and how drivers react to them.”
Army Developing Concept Designs For Next-Generation Tanks.
National Interest (1/13) reported that the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is developing “design concepts for various super high-tech tank platforms” envisioned for the 2030s and beyond. Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, detailed the plans in an exclusive interview. While the upgraded v4 Abrams tank has made many improvements over the first iteration of the system, “there are limits to how much the existing Abrams platform can be upgraded.” Basset said the next-generation tank will be lighter weight, more high-tech, able to me integrated with unmanned platforms, and sport an “open-architecture such that it can quickly accommodate new technologies as they emerge.” Indeed, developers with General Dynamics Land Systems said the coordination with remote platforms “was already being worked on for current and future tanks. “
Renault Trucks Develops 3D Metal Printing Process For Size, Weight Benefits.
UK Haulier News (1/16) reports on a metal 3D printing process being developed by Renault Trucks. “The Renault Trucks Lyon Powertrain Engineering department has focused on using metal additive manufacturing as a future engine manufacturing process. As a result a prototype DTI 5 4- cylinder Euro-6 step C engine has been designed exclusively using 3D printing,” UK Haulier reports. Damien Lemasson, project manager at Renault Trucks, is quoted saying: “The aim of this project is to demonstrate the positive impact of metal additive manufacturing on the size and weight of an engine. This process has enabled us to reduce the weight of a 4-cylinder engine by 120 kg or 25 percent. … The tests we have carried out prove the durability of engine components made using 3D printing. It’s not just cosmetic.” Behind the Wheel (AUS) (1/16, Richards) also reports on the Renault Trucks project.
German Researchers Test Future Mars Rover System.
Quartz (1/15, Olsen) reported that German researchers are testing a next-generation Mars rover system in Utah, choosing the state for its landscape that is similar to the red planet’s. In an area near Hanksville last November, the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) – with operators controlling the system from Germany – worked out “kinks on a novel system that combines a hybrid walking-and-driving rover called SherpaTT with an adorable micro-rover called Coyote III.”
Nissan Will Begin Self-Driving Tests In London Next Month.
Reuters (1/13) reported Nissan will begin testing self-driving cars in London, with the company preparing a modified version of its compact electric LEAF car to operate in the city next month. Nissan’s Europe Chairman Paul Willcox said of its plans for the UK “With future models secured and cutting-edge innovation being developed right here in the UK, we’re looking forward to a strong future of designing, engineering and manufacturing in the country for customers right across the world.” Reuters also notes the UK has been encouraging “the development and testing of autonomous driving technology,” to gain influence in an industry expected to “be worth around 900 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) by 2025.”
TechCrunch (1/13, Etherington) reported the London trials will be Nissan’s “first European trials on public roads,” with the company expecting to bring “a fully autonomous driving system in production vehicles by 2020.” The company’s current Piloted Drive technology will have “a single-lane, highway-only version that will be included on vehicles including a Qashqai SUV set for release next year in Europe,” with a “multi-lane highway autonomous mode” expected for 2018.
Engineering and Public Policy
Supreme Court To Hear Case On Venue For Challenging Obama’s Clean Water Rule.
The Hill (1/13, Cama) reports the Supreme Court will hear a case about “the fight over the proper federal court venue for challenging” President Obama’s Clean Water Rule. Industry groups argue that “lower district courts should first hear the challenges.” The piece notes that the ruling “may soon become moot, since President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office in a week, has pledged to repeal the regulation at issue.”
Six Volkswagen Executives Indicted, More Charges Possible.
The New York Times (1/13, Ewing, Subscription Publication) reports that more criminal charges could be pending in the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which saw the indictments of six executives on Wednesday. According to the Times, court documents identify a “‘Supervisor B,’ who overruled nervous subordinates and told them to develop the illegal software” and an ‘“Attorney A,’ who, as regulators closed in, urged co-workers to destroy any emails that mentioned the ‘acoustic function,’” neither of whom were included in the six indictments this week. According to the article, Volkswagen’s $20 billion settlement payment “is unlikely to be the end of the story.”
Meanwhile, Reuters (1/13, Poltz, Cremer) reports that the company’s senior managers “have been warned not to travel to the United States, legal and company sources told Reuters,” following the six indictments. According to Reuters, “German citizens can be extradited only to other European Union countries or to an international court,” but traveling outside of Germany can expose them to the risk of extradition to the US from a third country.
EPA Will Not Pay Economic Damages From Colorado Mine Spill.
The AP (1/13, Elliott) reports the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced it would not repay $1.2 billion in claims for economic damages related to a “mine waste spill the agency accidentally triggered in Colorado.” Attorneys for the EPA and the Justice Department have concluded that “the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.” The EPA, however, noted the claims could be refiled and payments could be authorized by Congress.
PHMSA Passes New Pipeline Safety Rule.
Reuters (1/13, Kumar) reports the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “passed a rule to boost safety requirements on the country’s oil and refined products pipelines” on Friday. The rule requires “operators to have a system for detecting leaks and to establish a timeline for inspecting affected pipelines following an extreme weather event or natural disaster.” The AP (1/13, Brown) reports the new rule is a “scaled back” version, noting that “an earlier proposal for companies to immediately repair cracks and other problems in their lines was dropped.”
California To Deploy Battery Storage Facilities After 2015 Aliso Canyon Gas Leak.
The New York Times (1/14, Cardwell, Krauss, Subscription Publication) reports that in response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak, California utilities turned to batteries as a replacement technology for energy storage. Engineers in the state “have brought three energy-storage sites close to completion to begin serving the Southern California electric grid within the next month.” One of the facilities, the “largest of its kind in the world,…represents the most crucial test yet of an energy-storage technology that many experts see as fundamental to a clean-energy future.” If successful, the project “could provide the proof-of-concept” for a larger expansion of the technology.
Southern California Gas Company Looks To Reopen Aliso Canyon Store Facility After 2015 Leak. The New York Times (1/14, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that the Southern California Gas Company wants to reopen the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility after a 2015 leak that caused an “environmental crisis in Southern California with far-reaching repercussions.” Residents, “environmentalists and some officials, are fighting to keep it shut.” The piece goes on to profile some residents, noting that “effects of the fumes on residents varied widely.”
WSJournal Urges Incoming Administration To Halt Funding Of California Bullet Train.
In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (1/16, Subscription Publication) calls on Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao to terminate federal cash advances to California’s proposed 500-mile bullet train on grounds that the Federal Railroad Administration expects the 118-mile Central Valley segment to cost 50 percent over budget and the California High-Speed Rail Authority to miss several deadlines. Furthermore, the Central Valley segment’s construction was expected to be simpler compared to construction in urban areas and straightforward compared to construction through the Tehachapi mountains.
Engineering Company’s Report Suggests Higher Costs For Getting Flint Water Plant Operational.
MLive (MI) (1/16, Fonger) says a draft report from engineering and construction company CDM Smith appears to be the source of the recent rumors that the expected cost of getting Flint, Michigan’s water treatment plant operational plan will be higher than previous estimates and that the timeframe for completion is longer than expected. According to MLive, “The estimates raise new questions about who would pay for $105 million in recommended upgrades contained in the report and for the millions more that would be needed to continue purchases of pre-treated water for as long as three more years,” when previous estimates placed a completion date somewhere in the second quarter of 2017.
Natural Gas Surpassed Coal As Primary Energy Source Last Year.
Fuel Fix (TX) (1/16) reports that according to an Energy Department analysis, the use of natural gas has “surpassed coal as a main source of electricity in the U.S. in 2016, the first time that a fuel other than coal has supplied the bulk of the nation’s power.” DOE “has long predicted that natural gas would surpass coal as natural gas prices” dropped “to their lowest since 1999.” Natural gas generated just over one-third “of the country’s electricity, while coal generated 30 percent.” However, “that balance is expected to shift in 2017 as natural gas prices recover.” In 2017, natural gas and coal “are each expected to generate about 32 percent of the nation’s electricity.” The Houston Chronicle (1/16) also carries this story.
Houston Coal Plant Makes Use Of Carbon-Capture Tech.
In a contribution to USA Today (1/15, Loveless), energy reporter Bill Loveless discussed the completion of NRG Energy’s Petra Nova carbon-capture facility in Texas. He also points out that Mississippi Power’s clean-coal project is expected to come online soon, and said “the two projects appear to offer a glimmer of hope to advocates of U.S. coal, including President-elect Donald Trump.”
Skateboarding Duo Introduces Students To Physics, Safety.
The AP (1/16) reports skateboarding scientists and Wondergy presenters Tom Veech and Even Breder visit schools across the nation in an effort to introduce students to physics as well as skateboarding safety. “You’ve got to make sure good habits like wearing a helmet at all times are developed early on,” Veech explained. For older students, Veech and Breder explain how various concepts of physics can help them become better skaters.
Iowa School District Addresses Computer Science Gender Gap With Middle School Programs.
The AP (1/15) reports on Iowa’s Council Bluffs School District and its efforts to encourage female students to pursue a STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, curriculum and careers in the male-dominated computer science field. The district’s secondary education director, Jason Plourde, told the AP that because of middle school-level “exploratories” courses in computer science, “more girls are opting into classes that were traditionally only offered at the high school and thus, male-dominated.” Computer science teacher Denise Hoag commented, “If we change the misconception that computer science is boring then maybe more girls would be interested in taking it.”
New York School District Launches STEM-Centered Curriculum.
The Utica (NY) Observer Dispatch (1/16, Sorrell-White) reports the Herkimer Center School District in New York renovated the elementary school’s library and remodeled its junior high/senior high school media center in the summer as part of its broader capital project. The renovations prepared schools for the launch of a district-wide STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program. Herkimer Elementary School media center teacher Leah Peyton confirmed, “STEM is definitely going to play a huge role in education here on out.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• EPA Says Fiat Chrysler Installed Emissions Cheating Software In Diesel Trucks.
• UNC Charlotte Considering Law School Given Charlotte School Of Law Problems.
• Wearable Sensors May One Day Help Detect Illnesses, Research Suggests.
• Trump Team Considers Overhaul Of H1B Visas.
• Giuliani To Advise Trump Administration On Cybersecurity.
• Detroit To Host 2018 FIRST Robotics Global Championship.