Leading the News
Grassley Blasts DOE Electric Grid Study.
The Hill (5/17, Cama) reports Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is “criticizing” the Energy Department’s “electric grid security study, saying it is designed to be critical of wind energy.” Grassley “told Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a Wednesday letter that he’s concerned about the research Perry ordered to determine if certain renewable energy are hurting baseload power sources” such as nuclear and coal. Grassley wrote, “I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources.” The Iowa Republican “noted that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory already completed a study on the subject and it took two years, far longer than the two months Perry ordered his staff to take for the research.”
The Washington Examiner (5/17) reports Grassley “wants Perry to answer a number of questions on who he is contracting to do the study and if any of the federal grid security agencies are being consulted.” In addition, the senator “wants to know if a draft of the report will be made public before being made final.” Reuters (5/17, Volcovici) reports that under Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas, the state “became the country’s leading wind energy producer.”
NIH Director “Aggressively Questioned” About Paying For Overhead At Research Universities.
STAT (5/17, Facher) reports that National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins was “aggressively questioned” at an appropriations hearing on Wednesday by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) about the amount the NIH pays toward “indirect costs” such as “lab equipment and paying for utilities” at research universities. When Collins said such costs were “50 percent,” Harris responded with “a prepared slide on a nearby television monitor to show that many nonprofit organizations expect to pay substantially less for overhead as part of their grant awards.” Harris said “indirect costs at the NIH are over $6.5 billion per year,” which he said “sounds like there’s a different standard for the American taxpayer.”
Trump Education Budget Plan Would Make Changes To Federal College Finance System.
The Washington Post (5/17, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that it has obtained documents showing that President Trump’s budget proposal would make “a raft of changes that could have significant impact on college students and graduates.” A “striking” proposal would replace “the five income-driven student loan repayment plans with a single plan to the benefit of undergraduate borrowers.” This “would cap repayment to 12.5 percent of the borrower’s income and forgive the balance of the loan after 15 years.” The Post says under the plan, “people with graduate degrees would expect larger monthly payments for a longer period of time.” The plan also cuts Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which “wipes away federal student debt for people in the public sector after they have made” on-time payments for 10 years.
MarketWatch (5/17) reports the proposal would cut a “student loan forgiveness program for teachers, social workers and other public servants,” noting that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program’s future “has been a subject of concern for borrowers and advocates over the past several months amid signals that borrowers may not get the forgiveness they’ve been counting on.”
Students, Union Members Disrupt University Of California Regents Meeting.
The Los Angeles Times (5/17, Watanabe) reports, “Students and union members disrupted the opening of the University of California regents meeting Wednesday, loudly protesting and criticizing officials for raising tuition despite squirreling away millions in surplus funds.” Speakers said that “a recent state audit finding that UC officials had failed to disclose $175 million in surplus funds indicated there was enough money to raise the pay of low-wage workers and better support students who face hunger and homelessness.”
Study Attempts To Test What Students Learn In College.
MarketWatch (5/17, Berman) reports that a new study “suggests it may be possible to test what students actually learn in college,” and its authors “are urging higher education leaders to use the findings as a call to quantify their schools’ effectiveness at helping students improve.” The searchers “measured the writing abilities of more than 300 college students between 2000 and 2008, by repeatedly bringing them in for testing, to see whether they improved over the course of the students’ college career.” Over four years of college, “students improved on average by about 0.25 points (out of a possible four points) in persuasive writing and by about 0.33 points in expository writing.”
Research and Development
Senators Send Perry Letter Suggesting DOE Is Withholding Research Funds.
E&E Daily (5/17, Subscription Publication) reports more than a dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Energy Secretary Perry suggesting that his agency is “withholding research funds in multiple offices in violation of federal law.” The letter says that “small businesses, universities, and research institutions” maintain “that the DOE has slowed down or frozen some its essential research and development programs.” They also cite a contracting hold at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy “that is threatening ‘millions of dollars of investments,’ and denial of no-cost time extensions for projects.” The Dallas Morning News (5/17, Benning) reports that President Trump “made clear in recent months that he wants to ax” the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and “even though the Energy Department has pledged to honor its funding commitments, deep anxiety remains in College Station and across the U.S.”
Murkowski Seeking Assurances Grants Freeze Isn’t Permanent. Roll Call (5/17, Dillon) reports Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski “said Wednesday that she sought ‘assurances’” from the Department of Energy that its grants freeze isn’t permanent. She said she did not know of the Democrats’ letter to Secretary Perry, but added, “knowing where we are in the process is not a bad thing.”
IARPA, NIST Launch Face Recognition Challenge.
MeriTalk (5/17, Lamb) reports “facial recognition software designers stand to win $25,000 in the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s latest challenge.” The report explains that IARPA, in partnership with the NIST, “recently launched its Face Recognition Prize Challenge…seeking software to improve core facial recognition accuracy.” According to the challenge website, “the goal is to be able to identify individuals in the ‘wild,’ meaning those who have been photographed in various conditions and environments.” According to NIST’s Face In Video Evaluation (FIVE) program report, “a demanding blend of time, cost, and manpower are needed to process thousands of facial images.” NIST scientist Patrick Grother said, “The report argues that this is complicated because there a number of different factors. … If it’s to be a success, you need a multidisciplinary team. You might change the environment to try to arrange for subjects to look at the screen. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”
NYTimes Analysis: Volkswagen Engineers Sought Approval From Top Officials For Emissions Fraud.
The New York Times (5/17, Ewing, Subscription Publication) reports from Frankfurt, Germany that “even after Volkswagen pleaded guilty to a nine-year conspiracy to dupe regulators and consumers, the carmaker has continued to insist that top executives played no role in the emissions fraud,” but “internal company emails and memos, which were reviewed by The New York Times, indicate that engineers wanted approval from top managers to deploy the illegal software almost from the beginning, with regular status reports noting that high-level signoff was necessary.” According to the Times, the emissions issue “was the main agenda for a 2007 meeting attended by Matthias Müller, the current chief executive, who was then Volkswagen’s head of product planning, as well as Martin Winterkorn, the chief executive at the time,” and “a presentation for the meeting detailed plans to conceal excess emissions of diesel cars in the United States, including the so-called defeat device at the center of the crime.”
NYTimes Analysis: Tech Giants, Not Government, Investing In America’s Future.
The New York Times (5/17, Manjoo, Subscription Publication) reports that contrary to popular belief that Silicon Valley “no longer works on big, wold-changing ideas,” tech companies – not the government – “are funding the biggest, most world-changing things” that “years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.” Google announced last year its increased focus on artificial intelligence, and the Times says it and the other Frightful Five members – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft – are on track to spend more than $60 billion this year on research and development. The federal government spent $67 on all non-defense research in 2015. On the one hand, this news should be met with “optimism and even gratitude” because new technologies likely will help save lives and money. However, tech giants’ “huge investments” in AI “might also be cause for alarm” because the government will have much less say in how AI technology develops.
EV Advocates Say Dealers Need To Better Promote Cars.
The Los Angeles Times (5/17, Mitchell) reports that while few consumers are buying electric cars due to “range anxiety, limited models to choose from, and the proliferation of gas stations compared with the paucity of electric charging stations,” electric vehicle advocates say that part of the reason is dealers. EV advocates “say dealers have been slow to showcase and promote the advantages of electric cars,” sometimes not event knowing of the positives: “government incentives, the ability to charge at home, savings on gas, environmentally friendly.” When the Sierra Club sent shoppers to 308 dealers, it “found that significant numbers of salespeople didn’t know much about electric cars” and that 14 percent of locations couldn’t offer shoppers a test-drive because the cars weren’t charged.
Engineering and Public Policy
Nevada Senate Vote Sends Yucca Mountain Resolution To Congress.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (5/17, Chereb) reports the Nevada Senate on Wednesday “gave final legislative approval” to a “resolution strongly opposing any attempts by Congress to make Yucca Mountain the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dump.” The resolution was “approved on a vote of 19-2.” President Trump has “called for $120 million in his budget to revive construction of the Yucca Mountain site, as well as development of an interim nuclear waste storage program.” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry toured the site two months ago. Recently, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval “met with Perry” in Washington “and reiterated his resolve to fight Yucca Mountain.”
Opposition To Building Coal-Fired Plants In Oregon.
The Oregonian (5/17) reports that those attending a public meeting offered the “strident message” to Oregon’s public utility commissioners and executives from Portland General Electric that the utility should not build natural gas plants to replace the coal-fired plant it plans to close in 2020. Instead, attendees called for a move toward sustainable, renewable energy. Commenters “raised the specter of methane leaks,” pollution, and climate change. Meanwhile, comments from PUC staff members “eviscerated” the company’s plan, “suggesting that while new technologies, customer expectations, regulatory mandates and climate change are driving a profound transformation of the industry, PGE’s action plan is business as usual.”
US Less Attractive For Renewable Energy Investment.
Fuel Fix (TX) (5/17) reports that accounting firm Ernst and Young says Administration plans to undo the Clean Power Plan and the possibility of dropping out of the Paris climate accords “could push renewable energy investors away from the United States.” The US’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index has fallen below that of China and India.
Iowa Creates Computer Science Standards.
THE Journal (5/17, Schaffhauser) reports that a new Iowa state law requires the state Department of Education “to establish standards in computer science for K-12 and a credential for teachers who teach CS. The hope is that by July 2019, every high school will offer ‘at least one high-quality’ CS course, that each middle school will deliver instruction in exploratory CS and that each elementary school will cover the basics of CS.” While participation in the standards is voluntary, “they will come with ‘incentives’ to increase the number of CS offerings at all grade levels” in the form of a fund from which teachers and districts can receive reimbursement.
Maryland Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes Statewide Computer Science And Coding Courses.
The Baltimore Sun (5/17) reports that Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate had proposed “that every Maryland school offer computer science and coding courses by 2022. The technology entrepreneur is the first candidate to formally launch a bid in what’s expected to be a crowded Democratic field hoping to take on popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.” He wants to spend “as much as $80 million over the next 10 years to ensure ever K-12 student in the state has access to computer science courses and an opportunity to learn computer code.”
High School Student Organized Girls’ Tech Symposium.
The Roanoke (VA) Times (5/17, Demmitt) reports on 16-year-old Alexandra Jabbarpour, who has organized “a symposium for technology-inclined girls who, like herself, will probably find themselves in male-dominated industries sometime soon. Before finding a venue or consulting adults at school, she began reaching out to women who had already built distinguished careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine – or STEM-MD.” The event took place on Tuesday.
Senators Urge Continued Funding For NASA Office Of Education.
Yahoo! News (5/17, Moreno) reports that 34 senators have sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee “urging members not to cut NASA’s Office of Education, which works to educate students nationwide to pursue careers in technology, science, engineering and math.” The letter, spearheaded by Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Tim Kaine, urges the committee “to support the space agency’s Office of Education in the coming fiscal year.”
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• Previously Infertile Mice Able To Reproduce With 3-D Printed Ovaries, Study Suggests.
• NASFAA Report Calls For Reform Of Federal Student Aid Office.
• University Of Illinois Computer Professors Receive National Science Foundation Awards.
• Samsung Making Name In Next-Gen Biologic Medicines.
• Four Renewable Groups Press DOE On Electric Grid Study.
• South Dakota Board Of Education Approves New Standards In CTE Career Clusters.