Leading the News
Backlash Against Offshore Drilling Plan Continues.
Reuters (1/11, Volcovici) reports 22 Democratic senators from 12 states joined local representatives in requesting exemptions from the Interior Department’s new offshore drilling plan. The senators wrote, “Just like Florida, our states are unique with vibrant coastal economies. … Providing all of our states with the same exemption from dangerous offshore oil and gas drilling would ensure that vital industries from tourism to recreation to fishing are not needlessly placed in harm’s way.” E&E Publishing (1/11, Subscription Publication) reports the White House insisted that the decision to exempt Florida’s waters from the drilling plan was not a political move designed to favor Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I am not aware of any political favor that that would have been part of.” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said, “The secretary intends to meet with or talk with any governor who submits a request. If other governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely invited to do so.”
CNN (1/11, Merica) reports that almost every governor with ocean coastline is opposing the drilling plan. The only ones likely in favor are Maine’s Gov. LePage, Mississippi’s Bryan, Alabama’s Ivey, and Alaska’s Walker. Georgia’s Gov. Deal is generally supporting of drilling but he has expressed concern about the state’s coastline. Those opposed include New Hampshire’s Sununu, Massachusetts’ Baker, Rhode Island’s Raimondo, Connecticut’s Malloy, New York’s Cuomo, New Jersey’s Gov. Christie and Gov.-elect Murphy, Maryland’s Hogan, Delaware’s Carney, Virginia’s Gov.-elect Northam, North Carolina’s Cooper, South Carolina’s McMaster, Florida’s Scott, California’s Brown, Oregon’s Brown, and Washington’s Inslee.
The AP (1/11, Daly) reports Sen. Maria Cantwell is saying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have violated federal law by exempting Florida from the offshore drilling plan. She says that listening to Florida’s request while ignoring at least 10 other states that have made similar entreaties may violate requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
Despite Declaration, Florida Could Still See Drilling Rigs. Bloomberg News (1/11, Dlouhy) reports while Zinke said he is “taking Florida off the table” for new offshore drilling, there are still plenty of opportunities for rigs around the state. Sen. Bill Nelson said, “Right now his promise is just empty words. … What exactly does ‘off the table’ mean? The whole eastern Gulf, half of it? One hundred twenty five miles off the coast? Does it mean both coasts of Florida? Does it mean just one? What about the Straits of Florida?” The Interior has months to decide, and its formal answer may be far different from what Zinke’s tweets suggest. ClearView Energy Partners’ managing director Kevin Book said, “The secretary’s tweet makes it likely, in our view, that subsequent drilling plans will remove Florida, but it raises an important question: How will Interior define ‘Florida?’” E&E Publishing (1/11, Subscription Publication) reports Book said, “As long as BOEM adheres to its prescribed comment periods and addresses feedback from commenters, my understanding is that removal of all or part of a Planning Area would comport with both the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and the Administrative Procedure Act.” He went on to say, “I would not necessarily regard the terms of a tweet as definitive. … THAT, to the best of my knowledge, DOES NOT comport with BOEM procedure. Instead, the agency seems likely to incorporate Gov. Scott’s feedback and proceed from there.”
Michigan State University Announces Scholarships For Low-Income Science Students.
The AP (1/11) reports Michigan State University has announced “it’s rolling out scholarships over the next several years for low-income students who studied natural science at community colleges,” saying it “aims to boost the quantity and quality of such students studying science, technology, engineering and math, and completing four-year degrees.” The scholarships will be funded as part of a $4.9 million National Science Foundation grant.
NYU Making “Big Play” With Cybersecurity Graduate Program.
The Bridge (1/11, Phillips) reports on a new cybersecurity program at “Brooklyn’s NYU Tandon School of Engineering.” The program is an “elite, affordable online masters degree in cybersecurity” with an enrollment of just 500 and tuition of $15,000, “the lowest of any such program in the city, with scholarships available.” Tandon Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan said, “We want those cyber jobs here in New York, and we are making a big play for them.” A long-term goal of the program is to “add 10,000 cybersecurity experts to the city workforce within a decade.” The program’s curriculum has been “designed with input from big employers including Morgan Stanley, Blackstone Group, IBM Security and Booz Allen Hamilton.” Program founder and professor Nasir Memon said that the program “will be evolving and updating with feedback from industry partners.”
ED Selects Only Two Debt Collection Firms To Recoup Overdue Student Loans.
The Washington Post (1/11, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the US Department of Education has selected two firms to help collect overdue student loans, one of which once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Compass Point senior research analyst Michael Tarkan said, “The selection of only two [companies] opens the door to protests from the unsuccessful bidders.” Tarkan added, “Based on prior contract awards, we would not be surprised to see protests, lawsuits and appeals which could all delay the start date for the new contract.” In the past, the Department of Education has used as many as 17 companies to recoup overdue student loans.
Purdue Announces Name Of New Entity Formed By Kaplan Purchase.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (1/11) reports that Purdue University has announced that the offshoot formed by the school’s purchase of for-profit Kaplan University will be named Purdue University Global if regional accreditor the Higher Learning Commission approves of the deal. The article notes that ED and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education have already signed off on the deal. The Chronicle reports the deal “has stirred debate since news of it broke in April. Faculty members and students questioned the public university’s motives, with one equating the deal to selling the university’s brand to Wall Street. Others have raised concerns that Kaplan would retain control over the institutions it currently has while receiving a facelift from the Purdue brand.”
Federal Report Recommends Guidelines For Middle-Skill Jobs Training.
Education Week (1/11) reports that according to a new report from the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, “programs to train young people for middle-skill jobs must avoid tracking, and should carefully balance industry-specific preparation with more generalizable skills to equip students for a changing workplace.” The study “explores a part of the jobs-and-education landscape that’s risen sharply on the public’s radar in the last few years: the vast array of jobs that require more than a high school diploma and less than a bachelor’s degree.” Researchers say that such “middle-skill” jobs make up some 48% of all US jobs. The report is aimed at “dual-enrollment programs or early-college high schools that give students a leg up in college; career academies that help them focus their thinking on certain occupational fields; and career-technical-education programs, work-based learning, apprenticeships, and programs that confer post-secondary certificates or associate degrees.”
Research and Development
Robotics Company Aims To Alter The Way Herbicides Are Used.
Bloomberg News (1/11, Little) posts a lengthy profile of Blue River, a robotics company aiming to improve the efficacy of herbicides by developing technology precise enough to dose the chemicals to unwanted weeds while avoiding contact with crops. The article explains that amid a growing problem of weeds resistant to weedkiller products, more precise spraying could mean “that 18 classes of chemicals previously considered too damaging to be widely sprayed suddenly become viable.” Blue River’s founder Jorge Heraud said the company is thereby “both ratcheting down the volume of chemicals that need to be used, but also expanding how many types can be used.”
GM Requests To Test Self-Driving Vehicle Without Controls.
The Detroit Free Press (1/12) reports that General Motors “asked the government to approve test fleets of the latest iteration of its autonomous Chevy Bolt, which has no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal.” Paul Hemmersbaugh, former NHTSA general counsel who resigned from the agency a year ago to join GM as chief counsel and policy director for transportation as a service, will lead the company’s efforts. Hemmersbaugh said, “We are asking NHTSA to give us permission to meet the safety standards through a different approach because we can’t achieve them now without a human driver or steering wheel.” The article mentions that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will speak Sunday in the opening session of the Detroit Auto Show.
Additional coverage included Bloomberg News (1/12, Welch, Beene), Reuters (1/12), Automotive News (1/12), the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle (1/12), CNN Money (1/12), Business Insider (1/12), and The Verge (1/12).
Chao To Appear At First Day Of Detroit Auto Show. A schedule for the 2018 North American International Auto Show published in the Detroit Free Press (1/11) says that “things kick off at 12:30 p.m. Sunday with speeches at Cobo Center in Detroit, including a presentation by Elaine Chao, US secretary of Transportation.”
The Detroit News (1/10) reports that President Donald Trump “is casting a long shadow over the Detroit auto show,” with new models “being rolled out against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future” of NAFTA and the potential for changes that could “drastically change the way automakers do business. Also hanging in the balance are stringent gas mileage rules that could impact models made after 2021.” The Trump Administration’s “review of the rules is set to conclude by April.”
Uber Working On Flying, Autonomous Cars.
CNBC (1/11, Frangoul) reports on the development of self-driving cars. “Fred Jones, head of cities in the U.K. and Ireland at Uber, the ride-sharing company wants to be at the heart of the transition to autonomous driving.” He predicted that “future generations of autonomous vehicles will likely continue to push the boundaries of what is achievable,” saying, “We’re actually working on bringing autonomous, vertical… take-off electrical flying vehicles that you can summon very much like an UberX.” He added, “This is something where we’re working with a variety of stakeholders… internationally to bring this technology about, including NASA.”
Research: Airline Industry’s IT Problem Is Troubling.
In a “Perspective” piece in the Washington Post (1/11, Elliott), Travelers United co-founder Christopher Elliott writes that new research puts the airline industry’s IT problem “into troubling perspective. The number of technology-related outages among domestic airlines has risen unevenly during the past decade, from three in 2007 to six in 2017, with the highest number being 11 in 2015.” A study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of global IT services company Sungard “says just one outage can drive away a significant number of customers. More than one-third of passengers (34 percent) said they would not book another ticket on an airline with a technology-related service disruption.”
India Launches 100th Satellite.
The Deccan (IND) Chronicle (1/12) reports that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched the Cartosat 2 weather satellite on Friday – the country’s 100th satellite.
Automakers Take Center Stage At CES 2018.
U.S. News & World Report (1/11) reports about the auto exhibitions at CES 2018, saying that the impressive lineup presented in Las Vegas “speaks to how significant Sin City’s annual tech convention has become to the world of automotives,” particularly given how CES comes just one week before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In addition to stepping up their presence this year at CES, automakers announced a slew of partnerships with the tech space on smart city and autonomous vehicle initiatives. As Allie Fried, the director of global event communications for the Consumer Technology Association, says, “It’s almost like the announcements are being made here, and the follow-up is happening in Detroit.”
Bloomberg News (1/11, Zhang) reports that “after years of predictions that Chinese technology companies were coming to America, the lineup at this year’s CES showed that they’re finally here,” with over “a third” of the 4,500 CES exhibitors coming from China, “more than any other nation except the U.S.” Bloomberg characterizes the long list of Chinese startups at CES specializing in automotive and electric vehicle technologies as part of President Xi Jinping’s grand economic plan to make China a fully developed world power, similar to “that of Japan or Germany – two automotive heavyweights.”
Digital Trends (1/11, Nicol) report “cars have become a major part of the trade show, particularly this year,” as “autonomous cars have been one of the hottest topics in the industry for a few years now and if there is one thing CES 2018 made clear, its that autonomous driving is no longer the tech of the future, but of the present.”
Reporting more specifically on autonomous vehicle developments, the Detroit Free Press (1/11, Reindl) reports that “auto companies at this week’s CES tech convention affirmed plans to have their first true self-driving cars in production by 2021 – or in some cases earlier.” The first autonomous vehicles, however, will probably not be available to consumers for much longer, with the first generation of self-driving cars going to fleet customers or other commercial buyers like delivery companies.
Electric Vehicle Tax Credit May Disadvantage U.S. Automakers.
The New York Times (1/11, Stewart, Subscription Publication) reports a provision in the electric vehicle tax credit, which was preserved in the new federal tax law, actually puts top U.S. automakers of electric vehicles, including G.M. and Tesla, “at a competitive disadvantage” in comparison to their foreign competition. According to the provision, automakers begin to lose eligibility for the tax credit after selling 200,000 electric vehicles, which both Tesla and G.M. are expected to do in 2018. Meanwhile, the firms’ foreign competition is “just starting to ramp up electric vehicle sales in the United States.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk complained about the tax credit’s structure in a 2017 conference call and said, “What matters is whether we have a relative advantage in the market. … And in fact the incentives give us a relative disadvantage.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Chao: Administration Seeks To Advance Innovation In Transportation While Maintaining Safety.
CNN Money (1/11) featured an interview with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during her trip to CES in Las Vegas. In the interview, Chao explained that self-driving vehicles could help reduce road accidents while also providing mobility to disable and elderly people. Chao added that for the DOT, safety is a top priority, and therefore it is important that innovations like self-driving vehicles are introduced in a responsible way. Chao also mentioned that in September, the Administration released a handbook of voluntary guidelines for state legislatures on what to consider when they are regulating self-driving vehicles.
U.S. News & World Report (1/11) reports that Chao announced at CES that DOT is “moving forward on a third iteration of voluntary federal guidelines designed to fill in some of the gray areas” on self-driving vehicles. Chao also “said her department will be seeking public comment on how best to structure regulations governing a wider array of transportation methods connected to the tech sector’s push for self-driving and self-piloting vehicles.” At CES, Chao also acknowledged, “As a former labor secretary, I think we also need to think about the social cost. There are people who are uncomfortable, and there are people who will lose their jobs.” Chao added, “I think we as a society have a responsibility to help those people adapt.” On the infrastructure plan, Chao said a plan will “probably [be] coming out around the State of the Union” address on Jan. 30.
Investor’s Business Daily (1/11, Coram) reports that Chao also emphasized that the Trump Administration does not believe in a “top-down approach,” but rather hopes to work with the private sector “to ensure innovation flourishes.”
Infrastructure Plan May Be Delayed Past January.
Politico (1/10, Snyder) reports in its Morning Transportation rundown that the Trump Administration may delay the release of its infrastructure principles until after President Trump’s State of the Union address. Politico reports that a group of Senators met with Administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, and special assistant for infrastructure policy DJ Gribbin, to discuss the infrastructure plan. Politico mentions that some of the Senators said the Administration officials did not detail how the Administration plans to pay for the infrastructure plan.
Infrastructure Proposal Will Reduce Regulations. Transport Topics (1/10, Lamb) reports James Ray, special adviser to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, delivered the keynote address at the annual meeting luncheon of the Transportation Research Board on Wednesday where he “said one of the White House’s goals is to reduce the amount of regulations that can sometimes stymie initiatives.” Transportation Topics reports Ray “said that typical highway projects can involve as many as 10 federal agencies, but will oftentimes not identify a single point of contact to serve as a liaison,” citing a bridge project that involved 55 agencies.
Chao’s Speech At CES Focuses On Supporting Transportation Advancements. Bloomberg News (1/10, Beene) reports that during a speech at CES in Las Vegas, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said that the DOT will publish four requests for public comments on how to reduce regulatory barriers for transportation advancements in vehicles, trains, buses, commercial trucking, and transit systems. In the speech, Chao said, “Right now there are too many outdated transportation rules, terms and concepts that no longer apply to an automated world.” Chao added, “This request for input will help the government identify which regulations, parts of regulations or terminology need to be updated to allow for innovation to move forward.” The public comments will be used to develop DOT’s third version of the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, which Chao said would be released over the summer.
GOP Leaders Shut Down Trump Suggestion Of A Gas Tax Increase. The Washington Post (1/10, Paletta, Werner) reports that during a recent White House meeting with House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, President Trump “mused about a gas tax increase to 50-cents per gallon, almost triple the current level, according to a person briefed on the exchange.” However, “Republican leaders in Congress moved quickly to shut down the idea.”
2016 Cars Miss EPA Emissions Targets.
Bloomberg News (1/11, Lippert) reports that cars and light trucks produced in the 2016 model year in the US “failed to achieve the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions standards for the first time, despite a small efficiency improvement from the prior year.” The average emissions of 272 grams of carbon dioxide per mile was “9 grams per mile worse than the regulatory standard set for the 2016 model year,” according to an EPA report released Thursday. Until this report, “the industry overall had outperformed the carbon emission targets in each year since 2012, when the efficiency targets took effect.” Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Spokesman Wade Newton said, in response to the report, that “automakers are deploying a wide range of technologies that improve fuel economy as well as alternative fuel options. However, it’s important to remember that the standards don’t measure what we put in showrooms, they measure what consumers put in driveways.” The AP (1/11, Biesecker, Krisher) writes that the EPA report showed “2016 vehicle fuel economy was 24.7 miles per gallon, higher than model year 2015 by only one-tenth of a gallon,” adding that the result “was well below the projected gain of 1 mpg.” It quotes an EPA media release accompanying the report remaining upbeat about the results, saying, “The reports show auto manufacturers continue to innovate and make progress increasing fuel economy and reducing pollution. This year’s report shows all manufacturers are in compliance with the standards.” Reuters (1/11, Shephardson) reports that “with low oil prices and Americans buying more trucks and SUVs, automakers have been concerned that rising fuel efficiency requirements through 2025 may be too stringent.”
Trump Administration To Soon Determine Fate Of 2025 Emissions Target For Automakers. The Wall Street Journal (1/11, Dawson, Spector, Subscription Publication)says the miss by automakers comes as the Trump administration will soon decide whether it wants to hold automakers to a 2025 government target that calls for reduced vehicle emissions and significantly improved mileage. Representatives of automakers have suggested that the target is not reasonable in the current market environment.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Top Car Tech Trends At CES Include Voice Control Systems, Vehicle Connectivity.
• Tax Overhaul Targets Elite Colleges In Blue States.
• Autonomous Vehicles Could Go Without Drivers Next.
• Pew Survey: Many Black STEM Workers Report Facing Race-Related Discrimination.
• Chinese Workers Leaving Silicon Valley For China-Based Startups.
• Infrastructure Plan May Be Delayed Past January.
• Missouri Bill Requires High School Students To Pass Computer Science Course To Graduate.