Leading the News
Industry Groups Pushing Pruitt To Use Private Lawyers To Fight Water Regulation.
Politico (4/18, Snider) reports that “industry groups with close ties” to EPA Administrator Pruitt “are considering a highly unusual approach to undoing the Obama administration’s most controversial water regulation – pushing Pruitt to hand the job to private lawyers.” While that would help Pruitt bypass EPA employees “who spent five years writing the Waters of the US regulation – the kinds of career federal bureaucrats whom supporters of President Donald Trump often deride as the ‘deep state’” – legal experts say the move “would be almost unheard of” and “would raise a host of ethical questions.”
EPA Seeks Delay In Oral Arguments In Power Plant Emissions Case. The Washington Post (4/18, Eilperin, Dennis) reports that the EPA has asked the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals “to delay an oral argument in a challenge involving a 2012 regulation limiting the amount of mercury, lead and other airborne toxins emitted from power plants.” The power sector “has largely already complied with the rule,” but 15 states and several companies are seeking to overturn it.
WSJournal: Pruitt Right To Avoid Fight Over CO2 Finding. The Wall Street Journal (4/18, Subscription Publication) says in an editorial that it makes sense for Pruitt to avoid a fight over a 2009 EPA finding on carbon dioxide emissions. While the Journal says the finding was flawed, it has been upheld by courts, and Pruitt is better off focusing on other challenges.
Syracuse University STEM Program Receives Nearly $1 Million NSF Grant.
The Central New York Business Journal (4/19) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a nearly $1 million grant to four Syracuse University professors to launch “The Strategic Undergraduate STEM Talent Acceleration Initiative,” or SUSTAIN, program. The professors, John Tillotson, Karin Ruhlandt, Jason Wiles, and Kandice Salomone, will also use the grant to assess the program’s effectiveness. The program aims to “support recruitment and retention of underrepresented” students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM, fields. The professors will first recruit 30 “underrepresented” biology and chemistry students, and hope to receive follow-up grants to expand the program to include physics and earth sciences students.
Navient Agrees To Buy JPMorgan’s $6.9 Billion Education Loan Portfolio.
USA Today (4/18, McCoy) reports Navient announced Tuesday it reached an agreement to acquire JPMorgan Chase’s $6.9 billion education loan portfolio. According to USA Today, “servicing contracts for borrowers in the JPMorgan Chase portfolio remain unchanged, and the borrowers do not need to take any action at this time, Navient said.” The student loan servicing company “plans to shift the loans to its servicing platforms in the future and anticipates providing additional information at that time.” The deal’s announcement comes as Navient “faces allegations that it illegally failed student loan borrowers by providing incorrect payment information, processing payments incorrectly and failing to act when borrowers complained.”
Bloomberg News (4/18, Scheer) reports JPMorgan on Tuesday “agreed to sell a $6.9 billion portfolio of student loans to Navient Corp., five days after the bank told shareholders it was looking to unload the holdings.” The bank “announced in 2013 that it would no longer make student loans” and “said April 13 that it booked a writedown on those debts as it explores options for their disposal.” The sale “includes about $3.7 billion in federally guaranteed student loans, less than half of which are securitized, and about $3.2 billion in whole private education loans, Navient said Tuesday in a statement.”
California Treasurer Pushing For Protections For Student Loan Consumers.
The Los Angeles Times (4/18, Mason) reports California State Treasurer John Chiang, who is seeking gubernatorial office, “is wading into the increasingly high-profile debate over college affordability with a new push for California to play a role in alleviating the burden of high-interest private student loans.” Chiang is calling for legislation to “create a $25-million fund that would offer a degree of protection to student loan providers. With the state assuming some of the risk, the measure’s proponents say financial institutions will be more likely to offer lower interest rates to those carrying student debt.”
California Community Colleges Chancellor Stresses Importance Of CTE.
In a Sacramento (CA) Bee (4/18) “Soapbox” op-ed, California Community Colleges chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley stresses the importance of career and technical education, which he describes as “a critical pipeline to career success that has been historically under-recognized in our country.” He writes that Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders recently approved a measure to repair roads and bridges, which “deserves to be a top public priority, but for workers to benefit and prosper in our economy, they must have access to necessary skills.” Oakley encourages California state officials “to make the proper investments in our workforce infrastructure so these brilliant young minds can not only fill the jobs of the future, but create them.”
Research and Development
UC Irvine Professor Cautions Against Proposed Federal Science Program Cuts.
In commentary for the Los Angeles Times (4/18, Allison), University of California, Irvine biology and earth system science associate professor Steven D. Allison cautions that the Administration’s pledge to reduce Federal science programs by at least 18 percent would significantly detriment environmental research. Allison says about 75 percent of the nearly $9 million that his research team has received in Federal grants “pays the salaries of graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and undergraduates who get career training to enter our modern, highly educated workforce.” Funds from the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department assist “conservancy managers identify cost-effective strategies to reduce property damage from invasive species, drought and wildfire,” money that Allison argues is “well spent” because California spends “up to half a billion dollars each year fighting wildfires and $80 million combating invasive species.” Allison urges “Orange County taxpayers and politicians to defend our national commitment to environmental research,” and calls on Congress “to overrule President Trump’s damaging cuts to science.”
DARPA Launches Cyber-Resiliency Project CASE.
IHS Jane’s 360 (4/18) reports that DARPA has launched a new project that aims to make cyber-resiliency “a core attribute of every defense platform,” putting it on par with other “non-functional” properties such as reliability, durability, and performance. The Cyber Assured Systems Engineering (CASE) project follows the success of – and will complement – the High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) project, which focused on software and was developed with companies including Boeing and Galois. DARPA Information Innovation Office Program Manager Raymond Richards said that CASE’s aim is to make a system able “to execute its function even in the face of cyber attacks.”
Kissimmee BRIDG Center Set To Expand.
The Orlando (FL) Sentinel (4/17, Brinkmann) reports that the BRIDG research center near Kissimmee could double in size and be given “a key role with the U.S. Department of Defense. The Center may obtain accreditation for the “design of new, cutting-edge microchips for jet fighters, nuclear submarines or spy satellites.” The Center “is an ambitious not-for-profit project to attract high-paying jobs to the Orlando area by researching and manufacturing new microchips, nano-technology and photonics, and it “is hiring about 50 people, while other entities at the facility are expected to employ as many as 250 eventually.”
“Early Research” Indicates Driverless Cars Could Either Be Very Good Or Very Bad For the Environment.
In an analysis piece that examines the impact autonomous vehicles could have on the environment, Public Radio International (4/18, Beeler) reports that “early research reveals a wide range of emissions possibilities for driverless cars.” A 2016 report by Argonne National Laboratory “found that automated vehicles could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by 200 percent.” While autonomous vehicles are expected to save a significant amount of gas, experts have also found that “even if each individual trip becomes more efficient with automation, we may make a lot more trips overall,” “have our cars drive us faster and use a lot more gas.”
WI Manufacturers Struggle To Fill Jobs.
WTMJ-TV Milwaukee (4/18, Mitchell) reports that many new jobs exist in Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry, “but employers struggle to find the right candidates.” The article states that “according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the manufacturing industry in Wisconsin employs more than 470,000 people,” and has added 10,000 more workers since 2015. Manufacturers “do outreach in the local schools to teach children about the opportunities in manufacturing,” and to help fill “skilled positions like engineers and welders.” WTMJ-TV adds “that the average salary for a manufacturing job in Wisconsin is nearly $70,000, according to The National Association of Manufacturers.”
Corning, Verizon Agree To Billion-Dollar Fiber Optic Deal.
Coverage of Corning and Verizon’s newly announced fiber-optic cable deal was heavy across major print outlets, as well as industry outlets, with a focus on how Corning’s fiber will help Verizon improve its 4G LTE network, but also lay the ground work for a future 5G network. CNBC’s Squawk On The Street (4/18, 10:43 a.m. EDT) hosted Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam and Corning Chairman and CEO Wendell Weeks to discuss a new billion-dollar deal between the companies. The two companies have agreed to a $1.05 billion for a “three-year minimum purchase agreement with Corning for the next generation of what they call optical solutions,” which will boost Verizon’s 4G LTE network and lay the groundwork for Verizon’s 5G network. McAdam explained some of the benefits expected from 5G, which needs “fiber deep in the network,” with Weeks saying that you need “somewhere between two and six times more fiber to do a wireless network right,” than was used in fiber-to-the-home. McAdam added that “we’re going to be launching 11 markets this year, this summer, 200 cell sites where we’ll deploy this architecture over 5G.” To meet this demand, Weeks said Corning will “add another quarter of a billion dollars,” and boost employment at its optical communications workforce by 10% in North Carolina.
CNBC’s Squawk On The Street (4/18, 10:50 a.m. EDT) continues with Weeks noting that Verizon is a world leader, which “has always been is innovative leader when it comes to networks and then we typically see rest of world actually following their architectures over time.” Verizon’s McAdam then focused on the densification and network investment Verizon is undertaking, with the company building up the infrastructure itself if need be. Weeks then said he believes “5G will deploy very rapidly,” with McAdam adding that once the network is available “people will build to that,” with new applications. McAdam closes the talk by focusing on the coming need for engineers with the rise of 5G, and the worry there may not be enough in the labor force to handle it.
Reuters (4/18, Athavaley) reports the “minimum purchase commitment” is $1.05 billion, with the deal helping Verizon “meet its rollout schedule for a fiber-optic network in Boston” in addition to being “critical for a next generation, or 5G network.” Reuters reports the deal is part of Verizon’s overall strategy to prepare for 5G, with the company speculated to be considering purchasing Straight Path Communications for the wireless spectrum it holds, while also recently closing “on its acquisition of XO Communications’ fiber-optic network business for about $1.8 billion,” and rumored to have an interest in Charter Communications with its fiber network.
CNBC (4/18, Thomas) reports Corning will “provide up to 12.4 million miles of optical fiber each year” of the deal. CNBC reports that Verizon issued a statement saying “this new architecture is designed to improve Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage, speed the deployment of 5G, and deliver high-speed broadband to homes and businesses of all sizes,” with Verizon Chief Supply Chain Officer Viju Menon adding “securing the required volume of optical fiber and hardware solutions with Corning will ensure we meet our planned rollout schedules” for the company’s Boston network.
Engineering and Public Policy
Georgia Transportation Department Announces Early-Completion Incentives For I-85 Bridge Reconstruction.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (4/12, Stevens) reports Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner Russell McMurry announced on Wednesday that C.W. Matthews, the contractor rebuilding Atlanta’s I-85 bridge, could earn up to $1.5 million extra if it completes the project by May 25. The contractor could earn an additional $2 million bonus if the project is completed by May 21, and another $20,000 for every additional day prior to May 21. The project’s target completion date is June 15. McMurry said the likelihood of the contractor earning the full incentive is unlikely, but the state is “very serious about getting this road back open so people can get on with their lives.” Florida International University civil and environmental engineering department chairman Atorod Azazinamini said the target date was realistic, and the agency’s incentives are not unusually large. “The cost to the society is significant compared to the cost of the incentive,” Azazinamini explained.
Geoengineering Faces More Serious Technical, Moral Scrutiny As It Gets Closer To Becoming A Reality.
The New York Times (4/18, Gertner, Subscription Publication) reports on the technological – and moral – dilemmas that are holding back support for geoengineering intended to slow the rate of earth’s warming. According to Harvard professor David Keith, an expert on the issue, “solar geoengineering, is technologically feasible and — with a back-of-the-envelope cost of under $1 billion annually — ought to be fairly cheap from a cost-benefit perspective, considering the economic damages potentially forestalled.” Although Keith was once an outlier in the scientific community for supporting geoengineering, the technology has since been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences and a report by the Obama administration, and research on the issue is supported by several influential environmental groups.
Reasons Examined For Trump Leaving NASA Budget “Relatively Unscathed.”
Roll Call (4/18, Shutt) examines why President Donald Trump’s proposed budget left NASA “relatively unscathed” – cutting funding only 0.8 percent – compared to other agencies that conduct scientific research. “A simple answer is that NASA enjoys strong support from key Republican appropriators as well as GOP congressional leadership,” with Cato Institute Director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards noting that “a lot of the NASA facilities are in Republican states and districts.” Future spending increases for the agency “could mean more chances for the GOP to tout its fondness for NASA.”
NSF Gives Texas College $1.2 Million Grant To Boost STEM Teacher Training.
The Sherman (TX) Herald Democrat (4/18) reports the National Science Foundation has given Texas’ Austin College a $1.2 million grant “for a newly-launched scholarship program which aims to increase the number of students who not only study science, technology, engineering and math, but go on to teach the topics in under-served areas once they graduate.” The piece quotes Austin College associate professor of education Sandy Philipose saying, “Its purpose is basically to encourage really talented STEM kids — science, technology, engineering and math-geared students — to consider teaching as a field. This money will help encourage those people to come into the field of teaching, but also help establish creative paths to recruiting and preparing those teachers to serve in high-needs school districts when they’re finished.” KTEN-TV Sherman, TX (4/18) also covers this story.
Former Senator Hutchison: Skills Gap Driven By STEM Education Shortfalls.
Writing in TribTalk (TX) (4/18, Hutchison), former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison argues that America faces “a massive domestic skills shortage in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” meaning that “employers simply cannot find enough talent” to fill skilled jobs and must hire from abroad. Hutchison maintains that “a decline in America’s math skills has real implications for our economy, with demand for high-skilled workers showing no signs of slowing.” Businesses need skilled workers today while schools develop the next generation of the workforce. “We as a country have not yet done enough to educate the STEM workforce of today, much less the technology-focused workforce of tomorrow,” Hutchison writes, but she adds “I know firsthand that many lawmakers and educators are dedicated to filling the STEM skills gap.”
Texas BOE To Vote On Anti-Evolutionary Language In Science Standards.
The Austin (TX) American Statesman (4/18, Subscription Publication) reports the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on Friday on whether it should change or eliminate language in its biology curriculum standards related to evolution. The board’s decision could resolve the rekindled “months-long tug-of-war over whether Texas high school students should continue learning theories that challenge the scientific understanding of evolution.” The board appointed a committee of scholars and educators to streamline the state biology curriculum standards, and the committee recommended “softened the language that the board has proposed restoring,” namely, replacing the word “evaluating” with “identify.” The board’s final adoption of the streamlined curriculum will go into effect this fall. On Tuesday, a public hearing on the standards was held, and some committee members who objected to both “evaluate” and “identify” compromised with the board on the use of “examine.”
Georgia Officially Certifies First STEAM School.
The Marietta (GA) Daily Journal (4/18) reports Henderson Mill Elementary was officially awarded its Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, or STEAM, certificate on April 18. DeKalb County School superintendent Stephen Green said at the ceremony that Henderson was “the first STEAM school in the state of Georgia.” The state launched its STEAM certification process last year to expand STEM learning to include “the meaningful integration of arts into classrooms.” The Georgia state Department of Education conducted an extensive on-site evaluation of the Henderson’s STEAM program last month, leading to its
Virginia High School Robotics Team Advances To FIRST World Championship.
The Martinsville (VA) Bulletin (4/18) reports that at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Chesapeake District Championship in Virginia earlier this month, George Washington High School’s Team Talon qualified to advance to the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis. Another team from the high school, Tunstall Trojans, placed among the top 20 teams at the Chesapeake event.
Six-Year-Old Launches Podcast About Science.
PBS NewsHour (4/18) profiles six-year-old Nate Butkus, the host of a podcast called “The Show About Science.” He “has talked radiation with a US government scientist, evolution with a Harvard researcher, and, most recently, genome-editing with MIT’s Kevin Esvelt.” He has also “spoken with scientists such as Yale ecologist Adam Rosenblatt, University of Michigan biologist Monica Dus, and Harvard Medical School geneticist Clifford Tabin.” Butkus and his father, Eric Butkus, launched the podcast in 2015. Nate Butkus said that he aspires to become a biochemist, but for now “he’s enjoying what he’s doing.”
The Atlantic Suggests Accelerating Education May Close STEM Gender Gap.
In a more than 2,000-word piece for its “Next America: Higher Education” project, The Atlantic (4/18) writes that a Girl Scout Research Institute study found that nearly three-fourths of all American high school girls are interested in the STEM fields, but their interest wanes because of “pervasive stereotyping and gender discrimination.” For 46 years, researchers at the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth monitored “the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 people whose high cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years,” and found that the priorities of men and women “began to deviate once they rose to the professional level.” The Atlantic suggests, “Accelerating the conventional education timeline – which all but ensures that a woman’s peak career-building years will overlap with peak childbearing and child-rearing years – may give more high-ability women who want to have children the opportunity to reach high levels in STEM than currently is the case.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• SCE, GE Launch World’s First Hybrid Battery, Gas Turbine Systems.
• Prominent Attorney Contributes More Than $500 Million To University Of West Florida.
• March For Science To Be Held In 500 Cities Saturday.
• Boeing Commercial Airplanes To Lay Off “Hundreds” Of Engineers.
• Trump To Sign “Buy American, Hire American” Order During Wisconsin Visit.
• INL Awards STEM Grants.