August 7, 2015
Capitol Update

In this issue:


FINAL CLEAN POWER PLAN RELEASED

President Obama and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy released the final Clean Power Plan, which establishes the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants. The final Clean Power Plan sets requirements for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent (870 million tons) from 2005 levels by 2030, nine percent more ambitious than the initial proposal. States will have until 2022 to reach initial reduction goals, providing more time than the initial proposal.

The final power plant rule is less favorable in promoting natural gas as a lower-carbon alternative than coal in a ‘bridge to a clean energy future’, as had been previously suggested by the administration. The new rules create incentive program meant to promote renewables and energy efficiency measures. Other highlights include:

  • Relaxed requirements for coal plants: EPA has increased the acceptable emissions rate in the final rule to 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, up from 1,110 lbs./MWh in the proposal. The rule will require new coal plants to use 'highly efficient supercritical pulverized coal' and 20 percent capture of CO2 emissions.
  • Some states are on track: The northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as well as California are among those already well positioned to hit their targets, according to EPA’s fact sheet on the final rule. The targets in RGGI and California's trading program "have goals that are consistent with, or more stringent than, the participating states' Clean Power Plan goals in 2030, making these states potentially better positioned to meet their goals," EPA said.
  • FERC, DOE and EPA will meet regularly to ensure the EPA's rule won't disrupt the power grid (see: http://1.usa.gov/1MIME55)
  • States may have two more years beyond the 2022 date to comply.
  • The rule also explicitly authorizes states to consider fees for CO2 emissions in their plans to reduce carbon output.

Detailed information on the Clean Power Plan may be viewed at: http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

The White House fact sheet is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/08/03/fact-sheet-president-obama-announce-historic-carbon-pollution-standards


SENATE MARKUP ON EPA LEGISLATION FUELS DEBATE

A Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee debate over legislation that would scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan turned into a disagreement between coastal Democrats and Republicans from states that rely on fossil fuels.  Each side argued that the other didn't care about their constituents' economic pain.

The disagreement arose during a markup of S. 1324, the Affordable Reliable Electricity Now Act (ARENA) of 2015. S. 1324 would make it easier for states to opt out of compliance with the Clean Power Plan.  The EPW committee is the first to take up legislation on President Obama's effort to clamp down on power-sector emissions since rules for new, modified and existing power plants became final Monday.

Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared the rules are "not a good deal for the American people" and a product of "backdoor negotiations with environmentalists." Committee Republicans released a staff report yesterday that contends EPA colluded with environmental groups in planning and writing the rule.  Capito noted that the final version of the rule would assign her state an emissions-reduction target that is nearly twice as stiff as the one it faced under the draft.

"Poverty is a contributor to ill heath," Capito said. "I think there is a cost and a benefit to everything, and I think in this case it will be more cost then benefit."

But Democrats offered amendment after amendment highlighting the risks climate change poses to the United States. Each highlighted threats to his or her own state.

"This is not an issue of money, this is an issue about lives," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.  She was arguing in support of an amendment that would prevent the Capito bill from going into effect if research agencies determine it would contribute to sea-level rise.
"Your states are not affected. Our states are deeply affected," she told supporters of the Capito bill. "Please consider the whole country when you write legislation."

Capito responded by reminding the committee that EPA didn't hold a listening session in coal-mining states to explore how its rules would affect people's jobs.  "It's not about money; it's about families, too, where I live," she said. "There's equal passion on both sides."

For more on the markup, including full video of the debate, please visit http://ppec.asme.org/ and look under “In The Spotlight”.


SMITH INTRODUCES BILL TO ENSURE NSF RESEARCH ADVANCES 'NATIONAL INTEREST'

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 3293, the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, bipartisan legislation to hold the National Science Foundation (NSF) is accountable to the taxpayers. The bill requires that each NSF public announcement of a grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of the project’s scientific merits and how it serves the national interest. 

NSF has recently recognized the need for increased transparency and accountability and is currently implementing a policy of clear, non-technical explanations of research projects. NSF staff and outside researchers will compose project abstracts that explain how each project meets intellectual merit criteria, is consistent with NSF’s mission, and supports the national interest. This legislation makes this commitment permanent.

At a Science Committee hearing held earlier this year, NSF Director France Córdova agreed with a legislative effort to uphold a national interest standard for taxpayer-funded research grants. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is virtually identical to a provision that passed the House this spring as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. The bill states that the NSF written justification is to be made after a proposal has completed NSF’s reviews for merit and broad impacts.  The bill states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

The complete bill text is available at: http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/Scientific%20Research%20National%20Interest%20Act.pdf


ENERGY DEPARTMENT TO INVEST IN ADVANCED REACTOR CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT

The Energy Department has released a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support the research, development, and demonstration of advanced reactor concepts. The announcement represents an early step in increasing investment in nuclear advanced reactor technologies, which have the potential to provide substantially enhanced operational performance, safety, security, economics, and proliferation resistance.

Through this competition, the Energy Department seeks to foster collaboration with industry and the national laboratories, in support of advanced reactor concepts that would provide clean, affordable, and secure energy. The Department is soliciting proposals for cost-shared advanced reactor concept development projects with the potential to be demonstrated in the 2035 timeframe.

The Energy Department will partner with industry to fund up to two awards of approximately $6.0 million each in FY 2015. The Energy Department will invest up to $3.6 million in each project, with a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) providing up to an additional $2.4 million. Recipients will be required to invest $1.5 million as part of the cost share. The funding opportunity allows for multiple-year funding for up to two awards with a total of $40 million in DOE cost share per award.

The FOA is available at Fed Connect: (https://www.fedconnect.net/FedConnect/Default.htm) under reference number DE-FOA-0001313.

Letters of intent are due no later than August 31, 2015. The application due date is October 5, 2015.

The Department will also conduct a Webinar covering project details and FOA application instructions at 1:00 p.m. (EST) on August 24, 2015. Webinar login instructions will be provided separately.


GAO TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT: NUCLEAR REACTORS: STATUS AND CHALLENGES IN DEVELOPMENT AND DEPLOYMENT OF NEW COMMERCIAL CONCEPTS

Energy demand in the United States is expected to continue to grow over the coming decades, and DOE considers nuclear energy to be one way to help meet this increased demand without producing air pollution. However, the current domestic commercial nuclear reactor fleet, consisting of 99 large light water reactors (LWRs) that provide about 20 percent of U.S. electricity, is aging, and some reactors have shut down in recent years.

LWRs use light, or ordinary, water to cool the reactor. New reactor concepts are under development as alternative energy options. Light water small modular reactors (SMRs) have some similarities, including the coolant used, to the existing large LWRs, and advanced reactors differ more from the large LWRs. Both new reactor concepts differ from the existing large LWRs in potential applications.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to conduct a technology assessment of these new reactor concepts in the United States. Its report discusses:

  • The status of light water SMR and advanced reactor concepts under development;
  • The intended benefits of these new reactor concepts; and,
  • The challenges associated with developing and deploying these new types of reactors.

GAO found that in the United States, four light water SMRs—nuclear power reactors with a generating capacity of less than 300 MW of electricity—have been developed to the point that the reactor designers have begun discussing design certification and license applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Department of Energy (DOE) has provided financial support to the designers of two SMRs for reactor certification and licensing work. DOE also supports research and development (R&D) activities on advanced reactor concepts that focus on the high temperature gas reactor and the sodium fast reactor. DOE provides this support in areas such as fuels and material qualification and reactor safety studies. DOE and NRC officials do not expect applications for advanced reactors for at least five years.

According to DOE officials and reactor designers, both SMRs and advanced reactors are intended to provide benefits that could facilitate the use of nuclear reactors in new markets or commercial applications. SMR designers plan to decrease the overall cost and time for reactor construction compared with existing LWRs, without significantly increasing ongoing operational costs. They told GAO they expect that the smaller size of SMRs may expand the locations where a nuclear power plant could be constructed. DOE officials and reactor designers expect advanced reactors to operate at higher temperatures and therefore they could generate electricity more efficiently. Some advanced reactors may also allow for improved spent nuclear fuel recycling and management.

DOE officials and SMR and advanced reactor designers told GAO they face challenges in developing and deploying these reactors. SMR designers face technical challenges in demonstrating economic feasibility and safety without increasing reactor complexity, and advanced reactor designers face greater technical challenges because advanced reactors differ more from current reactors than SMRs. Reactor designers told GAO they face challenges associated with the up to $1 billion to $2 billion cost of developing and certifying a design. Even with a reactor design ready to submit to NRC, the licensing and construction can take nearly a decade or more before a reactor is operational. DOE officials, members of GAO's expert group, and reactor designers said that the cost and time needed to certify or license a reactor design and construct it, along with uncertainty about the energy market in the future and potential customer interest, create obstacles to the development and deployment of new reactors.

The 46-page report may be read at http://gao.gov/assets/680/671686.pdf


NSF INVESTS IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING INFRASTRUCTURE ACROSS THE NATION

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded four jurisdictions with grants ranging from $6 million to $20 million through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program for the production of world-class research and scientific resources.

The Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 cooperative agreements will bolster science and engineering academic research infrastructure on the Island of Guam and in three states: Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia. Each award will support fundamental research, education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, as well as workforce development in areas relevant to the jurisdictions' economic and other vital interests.

Each award is organized into research themes that are aligned with jurisdictional science and technology plans. An overarching theme across the four awards is to develop the scientific foundation and workforce capacity for transitioning towards a knowledge-based economy. The awards also focus on finding ways to apply information science and data analytics.

Arkansas and Louisiana are developing innovative approaches for producing technologically relevant materials that can advance localized commercialization and manufacturing economies. Water resource sustainability is a central theme for two jurisdictions--West Virginia, which will focus on inland freshwater systems, and Guam, which will focus on coastal ecosystems. West Virginia is also developing gravitational wave astrophysics research infrastructure.

Additional information on each award is available at http://nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=135845&org=NSF&from=news

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