Leading the News
Ninety-One Percent Of Puerto Rico Remains Without Power.
David Begnaud Mason reported on The CBS Evening News(10/5, story 5, 2:00, Mason) that 91 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power following Hurricane Maria. One hospital had to be evacuated when “the power grid went down.” Officials are now “assessing all the hospitals to make sure the power grids are up to date, and they’re pre-planning for possible evacuations of other hospitals if need be.” Begnaud added that in the interior of the country, the situation is “much worse,” as people “are drinking and bathing with stream water.” The governor “has said some people could be without power for up to a year.”
Statistics On Drinking Water, Electricity Removed From FEMA Web Page. The Washington Post (10/5, Johnson) reports that on Wednesday the FEMA web page documenting the federal response to Maria showed that “half of Puerto Ricans had access to drinking water and 5 percent of the island had electricity.” However, by Thursday morning, both of those figured had been removed from the page. A spokesman for the agency “noted that both measures are still being reported on a website maintained by the office of Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, www.status.pr,” but “didn’t elaborate on why they are no longer on the main FEMA page.” The Hill (10/5, Delk) reports “the official federal site still shows other vital statistics on Puerto Rico, such as the roughly 65 percent of grocery stores that are open, along with 64 percent of its wastewater treatment facilities.”
Musk Says Tesla Can Rebuild Puerto Rico Power Grid. The Hill (10/5, Breland) reports founder of Tesla Elon Musk “believes he can rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar power.” On Thursday, he tweeted, “The Tesla team has [built solar grids] for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. … Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”
Solar Power Equipment Being Sent To Puerto Rico. E&E Publishing (10/5, Subscription Publication) reports “a network of mainland-based Puerto Ricans” have “plans to ship solar power equipment to the U.S. territory for a volunteer squad to install at community hubs, in what they hope will seed a larger outgrowth of solar generation in coming months.” Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects said, “These are existing community centers, places that distribute food and water, where people can meet to power up cellphones — the most underserved, but also the ones at the bottom of the list for getting power back.” A “team of expert volunteers” will “train locals on how to install the generators.”
Case Made For Stronger Electric Grid In Puerto Rico. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (10/5, Subscription Publication), Mark P. Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, argues that despite calls from environmentalists to rebuild a greener electric grid for Puerto Rico, what the island needs is a harder grid including stronger poles and wires, waterproofed substations, pre-emptive tree removal near wires, and buried wires.
Pennsylvania AG Sues Navient Over Student Lending Practices.
The AP (10/5, Scolforo) reports that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday accusing Navient Corp., the largest student loan company in the US, and subsidiary Navient Solutions of engaging in abusive practices improperly imposed billions of dollars in extra costs for student borrowers. The complaint said Navient “sold ‘risky and expensive’ subprime loans and damaged borrowers and co-signers by failing to perform core loan servicing duties.” Shapiro’s suit “claims Navient makes loans for schools with low graduation rates, knowing many will not be able to repay them, and pushes borrowers into short-term ‘loan forbearances’ that add costs rather than helping them enroll in repayment plans linked to income levels and family size.” In addition, the lender’s customer service representatives “are given average-call-time financial incentives that encourage them to enroll people in forbearance rather than the income-driven repayment plans.”
Bloomberg News (10/5, Nasiripour) reports Navient has come under this kind of scrutiny before. In January, the CFPB and Washington and Illinois attorneys general made similar accusations, and “judges in those cases have rejected the company’s attempts to dismiss the complaints.” However, Shapiro’s case stands out because his office “oversees companies that handle about half of the nation’s student loans,” it “represents a larger attempt by Democratic state law enforcement authorities to police companies and contractors they believe have run afoul of the law during the Republican administration of President Donald Trump,” and it “reflects the power of the CFPB.” Also reporting are the Washington Post (10/5, Douglas-Gabriel), Philly (PA) (10/5), CBS News (10/5, News), Investor’s Business Daily (10/6, Peters), and MarketWatch (10/5).
NCES: For-Profit College Students Twice As Likely To Default Than Those At Public Colleges.
The AP (10/5, Danilova) reports that according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, for-profit college students “were twice as likely or more to default on their loans than students who attended public educational institutions.” The report looks at students who started college “in 2003 and defaulted on at least one loan over the next 12 years.” NCES also found “that the for-profit students defaulted on their federal student loans in greater numbers than their predecessors eight years before.” The AP reports the data comes “as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rewrites rules that had been put in place by the Obama administration to protect students who said they were defrauded by their for-profit colleges.”
NCES: Certificate Program Default Rates Match Those Of Traditional Colleges. The Wall Street Journal (10/5, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that according to new National Center for Education Statistics data, students who take out loans to complete certificate programs default on their payments at roughly the same rate as those who take out loans for traditional college degrees. The amounts for certificates are substantially lower, but default rates are 44% compared to 45% for bachelor’s or graduate degrees.
Students From Poor Families Have More Student Loan Defaults. MarketWatch (10/5) reports that according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the loans being taken out by students from poor families “may be helping to widen the gaps between the haves and have-nots.” The piece explains that the report shows that “students from poor families who entered school in the 2003-2004 academic year still had 91% of their debt remaining on average 12 years later,” while that number fell to 59% for students from wealthier families. These rates were closer to the same in years past, MarketWatch reports.
Cuomo Calls For Reduced Tuition For Students From Puerto Rico, USVI.
Politico Morning Education (10/5) reports, “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday called on both the SUNY and CUNY boards to provide in-state tuition to Puerto Rican and US Virgin Island college students” whose education has been interrupted by this year’s hurricanes. Cuomo cited close ties between the islands and New York and pointed to past support for students affected by disasters overseas as a precedent.
Johns Hopkins Students Using Satellite Images To Help Puerto Rico Rescuers.
The Baltimore Sun (10/5) reports that Johns Hopkins University students held a “mapathon” on Thursday “to help aid workers navigate the battered island” of Puerto Rico. Volunteer groups have been using satellite images to provide “missing details on existing maps that, particularly in more remote areas, may have had only the barest of outlines, organizers said.” Organizers say that “as many as 6,000 people have joined the effort to map countries struck by Hurricanes Irma and Maria” using the OpenStreetMap website.
Research and Development
NSF Gives Notre Dame Engineers Funding For Hurricane Research.
WSBT-TV South Bend, IN (10/5) reports that the National Science Foundation has given engineers at the University of Notre Dame a grant for “close to a million dollars” “to pursue life-saving storm surge research.” The researchers “are working to create a new model that will help forecasters better predict storm surge, faster.” The funding will support research on “new software that’s faster and more accurate than current technology to forecast storm surge.”
Illinois Launches Study Of Power Grid “Platform” Concept.
Midwest Energy News (10/5) reports that officials in Illinois have launched NextGrid, an 18-month study of “the concept of the power grid as a ‘platform’ — a hub that coordinates energy transactions between various producers and consumers rather than a one-way delivery system.” The study “kicked off last week when hundreds of company representatives, regulators, academics and other industry insiders convened in Chicago.” Attendees at the launch “explored how advancing technologies and shifting consumer preferences are driving a profound change in the power grid.”
NASA Space Radiation Laboratory Upgraded For Mars Mission Research.
SPACE (10/5, Howell) reports that the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory has been upgraded to “help researchers better understand space radiation and its effect on biology,” allowing the lab, located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to “better simulate galactic cosmic radiation.” As one of the only labs in the US able to create heavier ions, research conducted at the facility will not only assist “cancer research, where heavy ion therapies can help eliminate tumors, but also for generating realistic exposures for an astronaut on a two- to three-year mission to Mars.”
Ford CEO Unveils Five-Year Growth Plan To Transition Into Electric, Autonomous Vehicles And Mobility.
Reuters (10/5, Carey) reports that following Ford’s announcement to investors earlier this week that it will cut spending by $14 billion over the coming five years and devote more resources to developing electric vehicles and hybrids over internal-combustion-engine vehicles, the UAW is working with the automaker to preserve jobs. UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said, “We’ve been doing our due diligence to find out how much it (electrification) means to us,” and “up to this point they (Ford) have been agreeable that it’s in the best interest of the company and also our members for us to be part of the process.” Additionally, speaking of Ford CEO Jim Hackett, Settles said, “The assembly” of electric vehicles “may be different, but he’s not looking to eliminate any jobs. He’s been consistent in what he’s saying and I’m optimistic he means it.”
The Economist (10/5) reports Hackett’s “checklist of repairs to present to investors” in Ford “is short but the engineering is complicated: restore Ford’s competitiveness while preparing for a future of electric vehicles (EVs), self-driving cars and transport services.” The Economist says “investors will doubtless welcome the attack on costs but [Hackett] has no revolutionary scheme that might make them love Ford again.”
Amazon Tests New Delivery Service, Analysts Downplay Threat To FedEx, UPS.
A Bloomberg report on Amazon testing a service called “Seller Flex” generated broad coverage on Thursday. Outlets tended to report the news in a relatively positive light for Amazon, focusing on the pilot delivery service as a way to cut costs. While shares of FedEx and UPS fell on the news, analysts offered mixed opinions about whether Amazon is a threat to the traditional carriers.
The Memphis (TN) Commercial Appeal (10/5) reports that according to a Bloomberg report released yesterday morning, Amazon is working on a new delivery service, reportedly called Seller Flex, that aims to “make more products available for free two-day delivery and relieve overcrowding in its warehouses.” According to the article, the Bloomberg piece suggested that the service will push Amazon “deeper into functions handled by longtime partners United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp.”
GeekWire (10/5, Levy) says its not surprising “that Amazon might want greater control over the delivery process,” given that “the convenience of rapid delivery has played an important role in Amazon’s rise in the retail world, so much so that other retail giants are building out similar networks.” The e-commerce giant “has invested heavily in its logistics network over the years and taken on losses to build it out.” For example, in 2016, the company “recorded an all-time high of nearly $7.2 billion lost on shipping.” GeekWire explains, citing Amazon’s year-end earnings release, that the result of this spending is that more than 50 million products are Prime eligible, up 73 percent year over year.
Engineering and Public Policy
DHS Creates Voting System Cybersecurity Task Force.
ExecutiveGov (10/5, Nicholas) reports DHS cybersecurity and critical infrastructure division acting undersecretary Christopher Krebs “has said that DHS created a task force that will oversee the security of state and local voting systems, Nextgov reported Tuesday.” Krebs “told the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee during a hearing held Tuesday the task force will gather expertise and resources from various DHS units such as the intelligence and analysis division.”
NIST, DHS Establish Internet Routing Security Standards. ExecutiveGov (10/5, Adams) reports that NIST “has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and the internet industry to develop standards for the protection of electronic messages from data theft,” and “the Internet Engineering Task Force published the Secure Inter-Domain Routing framework in an effort to establish a uniform approach for protecting the internet’s routing system, NIST said Tuesday.” SIDR “also offers a defense mechanism for the Border Gateway Protocol system that works to help routers determine the path of data as it travels across the internet.”
Hack DHS Act Approved In Committee. ExecutiveGov (10/5, Nicholas) reports, “The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has approved a bill…that would establish a bug bounty pilot program at the Department of Homeland Security.” The Hack DHS Act would allow the department to “enlist the help of ethical hackers to find previously undiscovered vulnerabilities within the department’s information technology and networks.”
DHS Not Offering New Cyber Information Sharing Incentives. Inside Cybersecurity (10/5, Miller) reports that DHS “is not offering any new incentives for industry to share information about cyber incidents and threats with the government, said Jeanette Manfra, who oversees the department’s info-sharing system, while acknowledging that sharing has not been as robust as the department would like.” Manfra is quoted saying, “I don’t think, based on my conversations, that people are necessarily looking for further incentives.”
Senators Introduce Startup Act For More STEM Visas.
MeriTalk (10/5) reports a bipartisan group of senators “on Sept. 28 reintroduced the Startup Act, which would grant more visas to immigrants in the STEM field.” The act “includes provisions that would accelerate the commercial use of academic research that can lead to new businesses, improve the regulations at the Federal, state and local levels, and modernize the Economic Development Administration (EDA) program to promote innovation and spur economic growth.” The bill “also creates a new limited STEM visa so that 50,000 U.S.-educated foreign students who graduate with a master’s or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics can receive a green card and stay in the United States.”
EPA’s Clean Power Plan Withdrawal To Include Big Changes To Cost Calculations.
Politico (10/5, Holden) reports that the EPA is expected to release its proposal to officially withdraw from the Clean Power Plan, former President Obama’s signature climate regulation, in the coming days. No details have been released, but experts say that the rule would likely eventually be replaced by one “that would pose minimal costs but provide few climate benefits.” In addition, Trump’s EPA is expected to “drastically alter how it uses the social cost of carbon, a metric for assigning a monetary value to curbing emissions.” Sources say that taken together, these recalculations “eliminate tens of billions of dollars of the rule’s benefits, which Obama’s EPA had contended would outweigh the costs of enforcing a faster shift away from coal-fired power.” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman defended the pending changes in a recent statement, saying that “the facts are that the Obama administration’s estimates and analysis of costs and benefits was, in multiple areas, highly uncertain and/or controversial.”
The Washington Post (10/5, Dennis) reports that the White House claims the Obama administration “overstepped its legal authority” by implementing the Clean Power Plan. In a copy of the Trump’s administration’s proposed repeal, there is no alternative plan offered to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide.
Facebook, Dominion Energy Partner To Power Planned Data Center With Renewable Energy.
The AP (10/5, Suderman) reports Facebook said Thursday that it will build a $750 million data center in Henrico County, which will feature “an energy-efficient design and a plan to boost the state’s adoption of renewable power.” The article reports that Facebook is partnering with Dominion Energy “to offset the energy used by the data center with power produced by new solar installations around the state.” Dominion Energy plans to “file a new energy rate with state regulators later this month,” but “did not immediately say how many megawatts of new solar capacity would be built, nor how the new renewable energy rate would compare to conventional rates.” Bloomberg News (10/5, Ryan) reports the sites of the solar projects are “yet to be determined, and the companies did not disclose how much energy the data center in Henrico County will require.”
Likewise, the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (10/5, Martz) reports the “renewable facility” tariff “is a critical part of the package that persuaded Facebook, based in Menlo Park, Calif., to choose the Virginia site for its eighth data center.” According to Dominion Energy Power Delivery Group President and CEO Robert M. Blue, Dominion Energy will file the proposed tariff with the SCC in the next few weeks. Blue said, “Our customers will benefit from clean energy on the (electric) grid.” The article adds that Dominion Energy “expects Facebook to need 25 to 30 megawatts of power for each of the five buildings it plans to construct eventually on the 328-acre site within White Oak Technology Park,” although “Blue said the company has not yet identified the sites for the proposed solar facilities to compensate for that use.”
California Schools See Shift In Science Curriculum.
The Ventura County (CA) Star (10/5) reports that teachers in California are seeing a shift in science curriculum. The shift “is part of the school’s implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which has overhauled the way students learn science – and the way instructors like Litten teach the course material – throughout Ventura County school districts.” One science teacher said, “It made science a verb. … It’s a complete paradigm shift in how you do science.”
Student Speaks Out Against New Mexico’s Proposed Science Standards At Los Alamos Event.
Santa Fe New Mexican (10/5) reports that Los Alamos High School senior Zoe Hemez “says she feels ‘betrayed’ by the state Public Education Department’s elimination of any direct reference to climate change, global warming or human impact on the environment in proposed new standards for teaching science in New Mexico classrooms.” Hemez “told a Wednesday night gathering of about 25 people at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos that the omission could ‘change the way that I or other students think about the environment.’” The Environmental Educators Association of New Mexico “organized the event…in an effort to solicit public input on the new standards so the association, in turn, can present a response to the Public Education Department next week.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Foundation Makes Record-Breaking $219 Million Donation To University Of Maryland.
• Alum Gives Creighton University $10 Million To Support STEM Education.
• NSF Gives University Of Wisconsin-Madison $15 Million Grant For Materials Research.
• Environmental Engineers Design Sustainable Farm In Jordanian Desert.
• Senate Commerce Committee Approves Self-Driving Car Bill.
• New Mexico Officials Will Not Discuss Origins Of Proposed Science Standards.