July 14, 2014 Capitol Update

In this issue:



The House of Representatives has passed an Energy-Water appropriations bill that would boost funding for oil, coal and natural gas research while blocking several environmental actions by the Administration.

The $34 billion fiscal year 2015 legislation (HR 4923), would provide about $27 billion for the Energy Department including $1.8 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, a 6 percent cut from current funding levels. Fossil fuel research receive a boost of 6 percent to about $600 million. The Army Corps of Engineers would receive $5.6 billion for projects.

The bill would provide $150 million in unrequested funding for continued work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, as well as $55 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's work on Yucca's license application, which a court has ordered to continue while funds are available. The House rejected an amendment that would have stripped the $150 million in the bill for continuing development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The chamber also rejected an amendment that would have blocked any action to end pursuit of the project.

While Yucca Mountain is intended to be used for permanent nuclear waste storage, lawmakers floated the idea of establishing new sites for interim storage. An amendment was withdrawn that would authorize a pilot program for interim storage of nuclear waste and allow any interested states to submit competitive proposals for the program. The Senate version of the measure includes similar provisions regarding pilot programs for interim waste storage.

Several amendments were adopted during consideration of the legislation. One amendment would bar the Energy Department from considering lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions when evaluating applications for liquefied natural gas exports. Lawmakers also adopted an amendment that would prohibit funds from being used for the Cape Wind off-shore project. The Energy Department announced a $150 million loan guarantee for the project last week. Several other approved amendments would prohibit funds from being used to implement or enforce energy efficiency standards regarding incandescent light bulbs, prohibit funding for high-efficiency or indoor water-efficient toilets, and block funds from being used by the Energy Department's Climate Model Development and Validation program.

The House rejected several amendments from Democrats that would have restored renewable energy funding to fiscal 2014 levels. It also rejected measures from Republicans that would have cut the entire $1.8 billion renewable program, including one that would have cut fossil and nuclear funding as well.

The House adopted an amendment that would add $57.6 million for Army Corps of Engineers maintenance, while cutting $73 million from nuclear energy research, an 8 percent reduction. The White House has threatened to veto bill, objecting to the funding levels for renewable and fossil research as well as environmental policy riders and restrictions on nonproliferation cooperation with Russia.

The Senate Energy-Water spending bill was pulled from full committee consideration last month over concerns about expected Republican amendments to block the EPA's recently announced carbon standards for existing power plants and water regulations. While the House measure has little chance of moving forward in the Senate, it would likely serve as a starting point for a conference on an omnibus measure that could be considered in the fall or later.

The full bill can be reviewed at https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4923?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22hr4923%22%5D%7D



On July 2nd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized two rules under its Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. Together, the two rules will expand the list of advanced fuels that fulfill the mandate and launch a voluntary program to combat compliance fraud.

The first rule qualifies the following as cellulosic and advanced fuel pathways under the RFS:

  • Compressed natural gas produced from biogas from landfills, municipal wastewater treatment facility digesters, agricultural digesters, and separated MSW digesters;
  • Liquefied natural gas produced from biogas from landfills, municipal wastewater treatment facility digesters, agricultural digesters, and separated MSW digesters; and,
  • Electricity used to power electric vehicles produced from biogas from landfills, municipal wastewater treatment facility digesters, agricultural digesters, and separated MSW digesters.

These pathways have the potential to provide cellulosic biofuel for use in complying with the RFS program, since advanced biofuels are already being generated for fuel made from biogas.

For additional information, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/documents/420f14045.pdf

The second rule is intended to make the RFS program more efficient and effective for buyers of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) by finalizing a means to help verify the validity of RINs.  The rule provides a structured process for independent third parties to audit the production of renewable fuel and the generation of RINs.

More detailed information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/documents/420f14042.pdf



SBA Announces Available Funding to Support Regional Clusters
The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced it is accepting applications for the SBA Clusters Program. The goal of this program is to increase opportunities for small businesses to participate in and promote innovation within a regional innovation cluster and enhance regional economic growth in regions across the country. Up to four contracts may be made to lead organizations of innovation cluster initiatives from across the country.

To be eligible for funding, the lead organization must provide the small businesses in the cluster with matchmaking opportunities, business training, counseling, and mentoring. The awardee is encouraged to partner with other regional entities to provide those resources. The awardee also will serve as the cluster’s primary organizing entity that brings industry, nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher education together to identify research and new market opportunities that create jobs, attract capital, and have long-term, positive economic impact on the region.

Each contract will be for a base year with four additional option years. Each awardee will receive an initial award of up to $600,000 to support activities during the base year. These clusters may span a variety of industries that include, but are not limited to: energy, manufacturing, agriculture, and advanced defense technologies. Applications are due July 31.

More about the SBA Clusters Initiative can be found at http://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba_initiatives/clusters_initiative/about_the_clusters_initiative

The funding announcement can be reviewed at https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=list&tab=list



Despite clear evidence that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees lead to higher salaries and more employment opportunities than other degrees, only 16 percent of 2008 graduates received a STEM degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The lack of workers with STEM skills has translated into a difficult hiring environment for many U.S. firms. A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the lack of STEM graduates has meant that STEM job postings take twice as long to fill as other postings.

An NCES survey of 2008 bachelor’s degree recipients found that, as of 2012, 5 percent of STEM graduates were unemployed, compared to 7.1 percent of other graduates. STEM graduates also were more likely to be employed full-time, to have just one job and to have spent fewer total months unemployed. Average salary for STEM graduates was $65,000, compared to $44,500 for other respondents.

The NCES data reflects a decades-long trend toward an economy that favors STEM credentials. Jobs requiring computer skills, such as data visualization, natural language processing and iOS and Android development, drew the longest posting times. As a result, these skills appear to bring the largest increases in average salary.

The actual size of the skills gap is difficult to determine since posting duration varies considerably by specific field and metropolitan area. Despite this need for more data, it is clear that there is a significant need to prepare greater numbers of workers for STEM positions at the post-secondary/sub-bachelor’s degree level. These positions, including nurses, repair workers and technicians, remain in high demand across the country.

In another recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) demonstrates the difficulty in trying to design a policy solution to the skills gap. The number of degrees awarded in STEM fields grew by 55 percent between 2002 and 2011. In comparison, non-STEM degrees grew by only 37 percent. However, professional STEM vacancies now take longer to fill than before the recession. These trends suggest that the number of STEM graduates has not kept pace with the growth in STEM jobs, especially in the particular fields and regions that are hiring.

The NCES Study can be downloaded at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2014141

The Brookings Institution’s report can be reviewed at http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2014/job-vacancies-and-stem-skills

The GAO report can be studied at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-374



The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a robust toolkit that includes new videos, infographics, fact sheets and brochures that describe NSF investments in fundamental research and how they contribute to the nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Part of the toolkit package is an animated, NSF-produced video (http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=76467), which describes the agency's rigorous merit review process. The agency also developed infographics called, "Data by Design: Snapshot of NSF's Programs, Processes, Funding & Impact." The charts showcase the Foundation's role in building tomorrow's workforce, driving innovation, influencing national and international discoveries, and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations.

In addition, NSF has developed brochures that highlight each directorate's contributions to pushing the frontiers of science, engineering and education. These contributions include the fundamental research that led to self-driving cars, the artificial retina, modeling seismic waves, accuracy of GPS devices, real-time emergency information to emergency workers and residents, unraveling cancer, rescue robots, building a diverse STEM workforce, and more.

The toolkit may be viewed at: http://www.nsf.gov/about/congress/toolkit.jsp



In a June 30th ruling, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court,
ruled that towns can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas operations, within municipal borders.  The 5-2 decision upheld drilling bans in the Ithaca suburb of Dryden and in Middlefield, near Cooperstown, saying the laws were extensions of the towns' zoning authority.

The dissenting judges argued that the towns' bans went beyond their zoning authority because they include detailed language about drilling activities, such as the storage of gas and use of drilling equipment. They maintained that the bans "do more than just regulate land use; they regulate oil, gas and solution mining industries under the pretext of zoning.”

The decision gives legal backing to the more than 170 New York municipalities that have passed measures to protect residents from the impacts of the oil and gas development technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The decision affirmed rulings by three lower courts.

To read the court’s decision in its entirety, please visit: https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2014/Jun14/130-131opn14-Decision.pdf


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

  • Melissa Carl covers public policy-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and diversity issues for ASME. She can be reached at carlm@asme.org
  • Paul Fakes covers public policy-related energy, standards and environmental issues for ASME. He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org
  • Roy Chrobocinski covers public policy-related research and development (R&D) and manufacturing issues for ASME. He can be reached at chrobocinski@asme.org