Leading the News
Tax Overhaul Bill Lifts Ban On ANWR Drilling.
The New York Times (12/20, Fountain, Friedman, Subscription Publication) reports the GOP tax bill passed Congress on Wednesday, including a provision lifting a ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, both supporters and opponents of ANWR drilling say it could be years before the first lease sale. While the Interior Department is expected to conduct one sale within four years, there are a number of steps that need to be taken before any lease can be held. The process moving forward is not clear, as lawsuits and other actions are expected to slow down any drilling efforts. The Interior will work to identify land for lease, after which it must hold at least one public comment period. There are also doubts that oil companies are interested in conducting seismic surveys in the region or if they are looking to bid on the newly opened territory. The AP (12/20, Bohrer) reports Alaska’s political leaders hailed the bill’s passage as a victory that has been decades in the making. US Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Rep. Don Young, were invited to speak at an event marking the bill’s ratification. Young said persistence paid off, while Murkowski highlighted how drilling can occur in way that balances development with environmental stewardship. The Hill (12/20, Cama) reports Speaker Paul Ryan said, “After decades and decades in this chamber, we are opening up a small non-wilderness area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for responsible development. That is the most ambitious step we have taken in years to secure our own energy future.” At a Cabinet meeting, President Trump told reporters, “We’re going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill. … They’ve been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn’t get it passed. That just happens to be here.” The Washington Times (12/20, Boyer, Miller) reports Trump said, “We got it done. … Above all else, it’s a jobs bill. We have done a job like no other administration.” He also said, “ANWR by itself would be a massive bill. … ANWR is a big, big deal.” The Washington Examiner (12/20, Siciliano) reports Trump went on to describe the ANWR, saying, “It’ll be one of our biggest oil reserves. It’s one of the biggest in the world. … It puts us at a level that we’re not even at now. And we’re doing very well all in terms of energy.”
Also reporting are the Seattle Times (12/20, Mapes), E&E Publishing (12/20, Subscription Publication), Vox (12/19, Irfan), UPI (12/20, Graeber), Newsweek (12/20, Montgomery), and the Alaska Public Radio Network (12/20, Harball).
Depressed Oil Market May Limit ANWR Interest. The Wall Street Journal (12/20, Puko, Subscription Publication) reports that Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration are slated to offer new exploration opportunities in federal land, but the depressed oil market may limit interest. The glutted oil market has left companies less willing to find new sites to drill. Investors and analysts only expect light interest when Arctic lands are opened for exploration. Wood Mackenzie found that with the global oversupply, companies have cut their exploration budgets by more than half since 2014, down to about $40 billion. The trend is likely to continue for government sales, especially for remote or environmentally-sensitive areas. Bloomberg News (12/20, Nussbaum) reports Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov said, “Our sense is that there is little to no current interest in the industry to invest in ANWR. … This is high-risk ‘frontier exploration’ with a very distant roadmap to cash flow.”
Environmentalists Promise To Challenge ANWR Drilling. Reuters (12/20, Gardner) reports Democrats and environmentalists have vowed to challenge ANWR drilling every step of the way. Environmentalists are planning to challenge applications to conduct seismic tests, saying they could block drillers with lawsuits over endangered species or other environmental laws. Trustees for Alaska lawyer Suzanne Bostrom said, “We will be working every step of the way to make sure that the coastal plain is protected.” Barclays analysts also warned that environmentalists could delay the lease sales and project approvals, and could even discourage investment entirely. The Houston Chronicle (12/20, Osborne) reports the National Audobon Society released a statement saying it would “do whatever it takes to prevent drilling in America’s bird nursery.” President David Yarnold said, “This tax bill trades away a national treasure—for what—oil we don’t need and the fiction that oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will serve as a bank to offset tax cuts? This is the biggest threat the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has ever seen.” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, “This outrageous scheme is among the worst pieces of legislation we’ve seen in over a generation. It’s made even more tragic because it sacrifices one of our last great wild places.”
ED Announces New Policy On Debt Relief For Corinthian Students.
ED announced on Wednesday a new policy granting either full, partial, or no debt forgiveness for former students of schools run by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc. Coverage focuses on a new sliding scale for relief based on former students’ current income and touches on opposition to the plan. The Washington Post (12/20, Douglas-Gabriel) reports ED “has approved 12,900 applications for student loan forgiveness and denied 8,600…while implementing a plan to grant partial relief to others defrauded by the defunct for-profit chain.” The Post calls the announcement “the first substantial step Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has taken to clear a backlog of debt relief claims that amassed over the last year.” The piece notes that DeVos and ED “are facing lawsuits from attorneys general and consumer advocates for halting the loan forgiveness process.” The Post explains that ED now “will provide relief to Corinthian borrowers by comparing the average earnings of students in similar vocational programs.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education (12/20) reports that the “new wave of rulings” comes “after months of delay.” Sources within ED said that many of the claims that had been rejected “were presorted for denial during the Obama administration.” This piece cites reports earlier this year that “the department was exploring the option of granting partial relief to such borrowers, and on Wednesday the department described its guidelines for how it will grant relief.” Before, defrauded student borrowers “were automatically granted full relief,” but under the new rules, there are “several percentage levels of relief based on the earnings of the person filing the claim. If borrowers earn less than 50 percent of what graduates of a comparable program do, according to earnings data collected under the gainful-employment rule, they will be granted full relief. After that, the department will grant partial relief on a sliding scale.”
Calling the announcement “a reversal of the Obama administration policy of wiping out the debt,” the AP (12/20, Danilova) reports that “students who were defrauded by the for-profit Corinthian Colleges may not get their loans forgiven entirely.” Under the Obama administration, “tens of thousands of students deceived by the now-defunct schools had more than $550 million in federal student loans canceled in full.” But DeVos “announced Wednesday she is putting a new process in place that she says is more efficient and fair.” The AP quotes DeVos saying, “No fraud is acceptable, and students deserve relief if the school they attended acted dishonestly. This improved process will allow claims to be adjudicated quickly and harmed students to be treated fairly. It also protects taxpayers from being forced to shoulder massive costs that may be unjustified.”
Reuters (12/20) reports that ED’s announcement that “it will give varying amounts of debt relief in the future set off fierce criticism.” Said Senate HELP Committee ranking Democrat Patty Murray, “There is nothing fair about denying students the full relief they are entitled to when they are cheated.” Noting that “by law, borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools can have their loans erased,” Reuters reports that “last week, four states sued the department and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, saying they were breaking the law and demanding speedy relief for borrowers.”
U.S. News & World Report (12/20, News, Report) reports that the move “confirms Democrats’ and student loan advocates’ fears that students who were duped into expensive, unaccredited programs to earn certificates and degrees that never translated to a meaningful career may not see their entire debt forgiven.” However, ED “framed the new process as ‘improved,’ and one that departs from an ‘all or nothing’ approach to a tiered approach.” US News reports, “Higher education experts jumped on the news,” quoting the Center for American Progress’ Ben Miller saying, “This is a bad idea for a host of reasons. It ignores the question of whether you actually got a job in that field, what your long-term career prospects are, the massive cliff effects, and it’s comparing graduates to some potential dropouts.” BuzzFeed (12/20, Hensley-Clancy) and Newsweek (12/20, Katz) also cover this story.
Maryland Legislators Criticize Governor For Failing To Implement Relief For Students Defrauded By For-Profit Colleges.
In an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun (12/19), Maryland state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D) and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D) write that “the Trump administration and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are seeking to roll back protections for student borrowers who have been defrauded by for-profit schools at the federal level,” placing the onus of protecting students on the states. “The Maryland General Assembly has passed laws that would provide financial relief for borrowers who have been victimized by these predatory, for-profit companies. Unfortunately, Gov. Larry Hogan refuses to implement these laws.”
Research and Development
DARPA Funding Unhackable Computer Hardware.
Motherboard (12/20, Oberhaus) reports DARPA announced Tuesday it is investing $3.6 million to develop a computer with hardware that is an “unsolvable puzzle.” The Morpheus hardware is “intended to be a more robust alternative to today’s so-called ‘patch and pray’ approach to cybersecurity.” The hardware will stymie hackers “using computer circuits that are designed to randomly shuffle data around a computer system. This way, even if an attacker finds a bug and tries to exploit it, the location of that software bug, as well as the location of any valuable data (such as passwords) will constantly be changing.”
New Atlas (12/19) reports Linton Salmon, manager of DARPA’s System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) program, said, “Instead of relying on software Band-Aids to hardware-based security issues, we are aiming to remove those hardware vulnerabilities in ways that will disarm a large proportion of today’s software attacks.” The article notes University of Michigan computer scientists are developing Morpheus.
Electric Eel-Inspired Devices Could Power Pacemakers, Prosthetic Organs.
Scientific American (12/15, Young) reports researchers have co-developed a “flexible and transparent power source” that mimics electrolytes used for electric eels’ power shocks that “could be used to power electrical devices in the body, such as cardiac pacemakers, implantable sensors or even prosthetic organs.” The research team “mimicked the anatomy of electrocytes using four different hydrogels made of polyacrylamide and water, then stacked around 2,500 of these units together. This synthetic system generated a potential difference of 110 volts.” In theory, this power “could be enough to run existing ultra-low-power devices, including some cardiac pacemakers.”
The Atlantic (12/20) also reports on this story.
NASA Images Detail Supersonic Shockwave Visualization.
The Daily Mail (12/20, Edwards) reports that NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California has captured images of a US Air Force T-38 trainer passing in front of the sun that “revealed how NASA will visualize shockwaves of a future supersonic X-plane it hopes will pave the way for future passenger jets.” The images were made “using a technique called schlieren technology,” and NASA “said it brings them one step closer to being able to visually capture the shockwaves of its future supersonic X-plane, also know as a Low Boom Flight Demonstration aircraft (LBFD).” During the first test flights of the Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST), NASA will need “imagery to confirm that the future X-plane’s shockwaves match” agency predictions. Lockheed Martin “has been working on the preliminary design, with hopes to move on to build the demonstrator.” NASA plans to award a contract in 2018, with flight tests beginning in the first quarter of 2021.
DARPA Launches Program To Develop Intelligent Floats.
Military & Aerospace Electronics (12/20, Keller) reports US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials announced Tuesday that it is launching a two-year, $37 million program – known as the Ocean of Things – to develop heterogeneous floats equipped with environmental sensing and surveillance capabilities. The floats “will rely on commercial hardware to generate data autonomously and in real time in a low-cost approach that could enable industry to build large numbers of floats to cover large operating areas and provide data from areas where limited visibility exists today.”
Finnish Researchers Claim To Have Autonomous Vehicle That Can Handle Snow.
Bloomberg News (12/20, Paley) reports researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed the Martti, “which they claim is the first fully autonomous car to handle a snow-covered public road safety, without spinning out on a patch of black ice and death spiraling over a cliff.” The Martti system runs on a Volkswagen Tourareg and, rather than relying on Lidar, is “uniquely outfitted to function properly even ‘when turbulent snow degrades 3D-sensor performance,’ said project manager Matti Kutila.” The Martti has “radar, three forward-facing lasers, and a mix of cameras, antennas, and sensors, plus a rear-mounted Lidar for good measure.”
Google Reportedly Building Shanghai Team To Work On Phones, Google Home.
Android Authority (12/20) says that Google is reportedly creating a new Shanghai-based hardware team that will focus on smartphones and smart speaker the Google Home. According to The Information, the team will also work on wearables, virtual reality headsets, and Pixelbooks. Google is said to have added more engineers to the Shanghai team, from 20 one year ago to 150. Most of its recent hires were former Apple and Amazon employees who have “experience in hardware and supply chain management.” The Information “says that Google isn’t interested in selling hardware in China for the moment, but suggests that it may try to leverage the low-cost manufacturing companies in the region for future products.”
Europe Releases Roadmap For Next 10 Years Of Quantum Computing Research.
Engadget (12/20, Krishna) reports on the EU’s new roadmap for quantum computing research, which “outlines where the project will go over the next decade,” with four areas of focus – “communications, simulation, computation and sensing and metrology.”
Sony Looking To Revitalize Bottom Line With Sensors For Robots, Self-Driving Cars.
Reuters (12/20, Yamazaki, Shida) reports that after years of declining consumer electronics market share, Sony “is poised to report its highest-ever profit this year on strong sales of image sensors…for use in robotics and self-driving cars” and is looking to push its position in the market “as competition heats up.” The piece details Sony’s improved earnings, adding, “executives say a technological breakthrough in image sensors and seachange in the company’s thinking are behind the success.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Delay Over BLM Methane Regulations Spurs New Lawsuits.
E&E Publishing (12/20, Subscription Publication) reports that “states and environmental groups” have filed two new lawsuits against the Trump administration’s decision to suspend a Bureau of Land Management rule designed to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations. According to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D), “Quite frankly, Secretary Zinke’s action to suspend the BLM methane rule is not only short-sighted but ignores the strong local and national support for curbing methane waste.” Meanwhile, Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said, “I think you have some AGs who are trying to make a name for themselves by opposing responsible oil and natural gas development whenever they can,” while the Independent Petroleum Association of American dismissed the challenges as “short-sighted” opposition.
Court Orders EPA To Report On How It Will Implement Smog Pollution Rule.
The Hill (12/20, Cama) reports the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wants the EPA “to report, with ‘precision and specificity,’ how it plans to take a key step in implementing a 2015 smog pollution rule.” The “demand” from the court “came after the EPA said in November which areas of the country comply with the regulation, but refused to say which areas do not comply.” Both “designations were due Oct. 1, two years after the Obama administration finalized its major ground-level ozone rule.” Democratic states and environmentalists “have sued the EPA to force the declarations known as ‘nonattainment’ designations.”
Greenwire (12/20, Subscription Publication) reports the court has ordered the agency to report “by Jan. 12 on when they will issue a final rule to set remaining attainment designations for the 70 parts per billion standard.” The agency “is reviewing the order, spokesman Jahan Wilcox said this morning.”
Developers Proposing Large Offshore Wind Farms.
The AP (12/20) reports “offshore wind farm developers are submitting proposals for large-scale operations” off the coast of Massachusetts. Deepwater Wind “will submit two proposals by Wednesday’s deadline for firms seeking to supply at least 400 megawatts of offshore wind energy to Massachusetts power companies.” One of the plans calls for approximately “25 turbines generating 200 megawatts of power; the other is a 50-turbine operation generating 400 megawatts.” Reuters (12/21) also provides coverage of this story.
West Virginia Announces Governor’s STEM Initiative Grants.
The AP (12/20) reports that on Wednesday, West Virginia’s Education and Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin announced “funding of more than $200,000” for “science, technology, engineering and math programs at 84 schools and organizations across West Virginia” through the Governor’s STEM Initiative. The initiative “was established in 2015 to support enhancing STEM learning opportunities and hands-on learning activities for students,” and it “has provided more than $1 million in education funding to 47 of West Virginia’s 55 counties.”
New York District Introduces Students To Computer Programming Through “Hour Of Code.”
The Albany (NY) Times Union (12/20) reports Troy City School District is requiring all students to participate “in the international ‘Hour of Code’ to gain experience and to learn that computer programming jobs may be a career they want to pursue in the future.” The New York “district is committed to the code writing experience as a way to encourage students to engage with the challenges of their future workplaces,” and “also meets demands from businesses to see more graduates with skills necessary in the digital workplace.” The Times Union notes that millions of students and teachers around the world are participating in Hour of Code, an annual event that coincides with computer science education week in early December.
Chicago-Area Residents Of Varying Ages Discuss Interest In Coding.
The Chicago Tribune ’s (12/20, Ding) “Blue Sky Innovation” section interviews five Chicago-area residents ranging in age from 10 to 53 about how they got interested in coding. Skylar Spratt, 10, started coding at the YWCA when she was six years old, and has since made “her own reality games, coding apps and learning programming languages.” Skylar was asked during Black History Month earlier this year to “code in front of teachers and students, kind of like a modern-day Katherine Johnson, the NASA math guru made famous by the movie ‘Hidden Figures.’”
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• Thales To Collaborate With AMOG Technologies On Submarine Stealth Tech.
• NSF Gives University Of New Orleans $1 Million Grant For STEM Scholarships.
• Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researchers Using Optical Tweezers To Capture Cancer Cells In Bloodstream.
• San Luis Obispo Stakes Claim As Growing Tech Hub.
• High-Tech Workers Heading To Canada In Face Of US Immigration Restrictions.
• Philadelphia High School’s CTE Programs Profiled.