April 6, 2018
Capitol Update

In this issue:


ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY TO REVAMP VEHICLE EMISSIONS STANDARDS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that Obama-era regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions are too aggressive, stating they are “not appropriate and should be revised.” The regulations implemented under President Obama strove to cut down on hazardous vehicle emissions by increasing fuel efficiency. The target was for vehicles to have an average of over 50 miles per gallon by 2025. EPA will now initiate a new notice and comment rulemaking to consider more appropriate standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. 

Automakers strongly supported this decision after having spent time fervently advocating the Trump Administration for the repeal of these regulations. Among their arguments, they contend that the car market has changed since the advent of the regulations back in 2011. In January, the EPA released a report noting that 2016 model year vehicles did not meet these greenhouse gas standards for the first time since their implementation.

While the EPA’s recent announcement received a positive reception from automakers, the sentiment was not universal. Auto part suppliers argued that investments made in more fuel efficient technologies will be undermined by changing course on emissions standards, as well as erode U.S. leadership in fuel efficient vehicle technologies. According to a report last year by the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, there are more than 1,200 operations in 48 states and 288,000 workers making components and materials that go directly into improving vehicle fuel economy.

In 2011, following the implementation of the Federal regulations, the state of California agreed to align its standards with those at the Federal level. In response to these amended Federal regulations, the California Air Resources Board said, “California paved the way for a single national program and is fully committed to maintaining it. This rumored finding—if official—places that program in jeopardy…weakening the program will waste fuel, increase emissions, and cost consumers more money.” 

To view official notice signed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that was submitted for publication in the Federal Register, click here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-04/documents/mte-final-determination-notice-2018-04-02.pdf


OECD STUDY FINDS AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS POSE FAR LOWER RISK TO JOBS

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that the number of jobs likely to be destroyed by automation and robotics is far less than previously expected. Back in 2013, an Oxford University study predicted that a notable 47% of jobs in the U.S. jobs and 35% of U.K. jobs were at risk of being automated, prompting a bevy of concerns across the workforce. However, the new OECD report states that only 10% of U.S. jobs and 12% of U.K. jobs run the risk of automation.

The disparity between studies lies in the OECD report’s differentiation between jobs with the same title, but different responsibilities. Despite having the same title, two workers may use very different skill sets to carry out their responsibilities, nullifying the ability to ubiquitously determine whether a job with that title will be automated or not.

The OECD report says that the 10% of U.S. jobs that may find themselves in jeopardy are entry-level and low-skilled positions. Jobs that require more skill and training are less likely to be eliminated by automation, making it clear that increased training, development, and education opportunities are crucial to competitiveness in the workforce.

To view the full OECD report, click here:
https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/automation-skills-use-and-training_2e2f4eea-en

To view the 2013 Oxford University study, click here: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf


ENERGY DEPARTMENT REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF FOSSIL AND NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS DURING EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) recently released a report examining the advantages of fossil and nuclear power plants during extreme weather events. During the two-week spell of bitterly cold weather that occurred between December and January of this year, which included a “bomb cyclone” across much of the East Coast, NETL researchers found that, “combined, fossil and nuclear energy plants provided 89% of electricity during peak demand.” The report further found that the movement towards cleaner but more intermittent forms of energy “…could have an adverse impact on the nation’s ability to meet power generation needs during future severe weather events.”

During the bomb cyclone events, when swathes of the Eastern part of the country experienced record cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time, coal energy plants were able to keep up with the demand for power to heat homes and offices. Without this source of energy, the report notes that it is likely there would have been a dearth of energy, resulting in blackouts, leaving many in the cold.

The Trump Administration has previously argued that coal and nuclear power assets are undervalued, and that electricity rates should be adjusted to provide more support for power generation from coal and nuclear sources.  However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected the Department of Energy’s proposal for differential pricing for coal and nuclear earlier this year.

To view the full NETL report, visit:
https://www.netl.doe.gov/research/energy-analysis/search-publications/vuedetails?id=2594


GAO FINDS STEM PROGRAM ANALYSIS FALLS SHORT

Following the White House’s announcement to prioritize Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) last September, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) undertook an audit to analyze the evolving federal investment in STEM education, and how much STEM programs have been assessed. The results of this audit were recently published in the GAO’s report STEM Education: Actions Needed to Better Assess the Federal Investment.

GAO’s report found that the Committee on STEM Education has not fully met its responsibilities to assess the federal STEM education portfolio. Specifically, it found that the Committee has not reviewed programs' performance assessments nor has it documented those assessments in its inventory, as required by law. The report recommends several actions that the Committee on STEM Education can take to improve program assessments, including improving public awareness of existing assessments, sharing best practices among programs, collecting additional information on participants, and having the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) include an analysis of performance outcomes in its annual report.

Between 2010 and 2016, the government spent approximately $3 billion on STEM education, but the number of STEM programs decreased by 22 percent. The White House Committee on STEM Education linked this decrease to agencies commencing, terminating and combining programs. However, the GAO report notes that of the 109 programs that operated the full period between 2011 and 2016, the committee only evaluated 49.

The report also contends that the committee failed to monitor and report on participation of underrepresented communities in many of these programs, with only 61 percent of programs tracking the participation of women and 54 percent tracking African American participation. Being more inclusive of these traditionally underrepresented communities will expand workforce skill sets, as well as provide new employment opportunities to these underserved populations.

To view the full GAO report, click here: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-290


SENATE LOOKS TO ADVANCE LEGISLATION TO PUSH ELECTRIC GRID OFF-LINE

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources recently passed new legislation by a voice vote to essentially push the electric grid offline in efforts to protect against future cyber-attacks. The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act, cosponsored by Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Jim Risch (R-ID) includes a key provision that implements a pilot program researching ways to create safety measures that do not rely on digital infrastructure and are “off-line.”  The Department of Energy (DOE) would collaborate with the private sector to identify and analyze the various ways the grid can be penetrated and provide appropriate offline measures to prevent these attacks from happening, as well as solutions that would remedy any negative effects.

As Senator Risch explained following the vote, “There is a clear, demonstrable need to develop techniques and technologies to better secure our grid from cyber vulnerabilities. As we reexamine our infrastructure security, this bipartisan approach would utilize the unique asses and expertise of our national laboratories to drive innovation.” The program would be overseen by the director of the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at DOE.

Inspiration for this legislation was drawn from the 2015 cyberattack on the Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Following this attack, grid operators restored power using offline systems. An identical version of the bill was introduced in the House last year and referred to the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has not yet taken it up. The language of the bill can also be found in the 2018 Intelligence Authorization Act, which has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

To view the full Securing Energy Infrastructure Act, click here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/79


RESEARCHERS EXPLORE NOVEL USES FOR SMARTPHONES IN MEDICAL DIAGNOSTICS

Long gone are the days of single-function technology. Now, a smartphone is a phone, radio and computer among a plethora of additional functions, all in one. Researchers at Michigan State University, funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering are looking to add yet another function to that list: blood pressure monitor.

In their recently published study, the team explains how they modified a smartphone to take blood pressure readings from finger pressure using an optical sensor and transducers that convert units of force into electronic signals. 32 participants were involved in the study, which found the smartphone-based readings to be just as effective as a volume clamp, an FDA-approved blood pressure reading device that uses a cuff on a finger. The blood pressure wrist cuff monitor was found to provide a more accurate reading than the volume clamp or smartphone device, but the smartphone device was both simple to operate and provided accurate enough results for individuals to use on their own.

To view the full study, click here: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/431/eaap8674?rss=1

The articles contained in Capitol Update are not positions of ASME or any of its sub-entities, unless specifically noted as such. This publication is designed to inform ASME members about issues of concern being debated and discussed in the halls of congress, in the states and in the federal agencies.

ASME Government Relations
1828 L Street, NW, Suite 810
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations

Paul Fakes is the Regulatory and Government Relations Manager, Technology Policy. He covers Standards and Energy and Environment.

Samantha Fijacko is the Senior Government Relations Representative. She covers Advanced Manufacturing, Robotics and R&D.

Anne Nadler is the Government Relations Representative. She covers Bioengineering, STEM Education and R&D.