July 31, 2015
Capitol Update

In this issue:


ASME has recently hosted two webinars focused on Federal Research and Development Funding and Federal Manufacturing Initiatives.  If you were not able to attend the webinars live, both webinars have been archived on the ASME Public Policy Education Center at http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/research-and-development/ under “Webinars”.

The first webinar provided a deeper understanding of the FY16 R&D Budget, the budget priorities for the Administration and Congress and insights into the impact of federal investments on engineering research.  The presenter for the webinar was Matthew Hourihan, Director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The second webinar featured Dr. Gloria Wiens, the Assistant Director for Research Partnerships at the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office and current ASME Swanson Federal Fellow.  Dr. Wiens discussed the current state of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and how the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0 Committee’s recommendations have been implemented.


U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) formally introduced their broad, bipartisan energy bill. Focused on a wide range of national energy opportunities and challenges, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 features five titles reflecting common ground on energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and land conservation:

  • Efficiency – The provisions in this title include agreements on everything from longer-term utility energy service contracts to the reauthorization of the weatherization and state energy programs.
  • Infrastructure – This title will help modernize our electrical grid, enhance cybersecurity safeguards, maintain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, provide a streamlined process for natural gas export projects, and ensure a qualified, well-trained workforce.
  • Supply – To provide for an energy supply that is increasingly abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure, this title focuses on the development of renewable energy, traditional resources, and non-fuel minerals alike.
  • Accountability –  Among the provisions in this title are the reauthorization of certain energy-related components of the America COMPETES Act, better interagency coordination of energy/water initiatives, and the repeal of numerous provisions within the U.S. Code that are outdated or redundant.
  • Conservation – The bipartisan legislation permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a way that balances land acquisition with other conservation programs important to states and permanently reauthorizes the Historic Preservation Fund, both set to expire this fall. It also creates a new National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund to address the maintenance backlog at some of our nation’s most treasured public places.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is conducting a series of markups on the Energy Policy Modernization Act, working its way through over 90 proposed amendments. Detailed information on the bill and archived committee hearings are available at: http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=legislation&id=87D9E1CF-1B96-4815-9D05-387798EFAEA7


As noted in last week’s Capitol Update, both the House and Senate are piecing together major energy reform packages that reflect the dramatic changes in the energy landscape since the last major overhaul in 2007.

Thus far, both chambers have largely avoided key controversial energy issues that would be sure to undermine compromise, such as language approving the Keystone XL pipeline, lifting the ban on crude oil exports, or delaying or blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. However, contentious issues remain, including expediting liquefied natural gas export licenses, a host of building code and energy efficiency standards, and amendments related to climate change issues.

Visit ASME’s Public Policy Education Center (PPEC) Energy page at: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/ for daily updates and expert analysis on developments in the energy policy arena.


The House Science Subcommittees on Energy and Oversight held a joint hearing entitled, “The EPA Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate,” to discuss the vast change in technical and market conditions in today’s energy sector compared to when the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was established in legislation enacted in 2005 and 2007. The hearing discussed the cost and environmental impact of the RFS mandate, as well as the technical challenges involved for a variety of engines and transportation fuel distribution systems as more biofuels are blended in the transportation fuel supply.

Witnesses expressed reservations about the RFS stating that it creates challenges for refiners, biofuel producers, engine manufacturers, and distributors of the U.S. transportation fuel supply—eventually impacting the American consumer through the price and availability of fuels.

The “blend wall,” or ten percent ethanol, is accepted as the upper limit to the total amount of ethanol that can be blended into U.S. transportation fuel supply while still maintaining engine performance and compliance with the Clean Air Act. The blend wall is considered a significant obstacle to meeting future biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS, and is in conflict with the biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS.

Background information, prepared statements of the witnesses and an archived webcast of the hearing may be viewed at: http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-energy-and-subcommittee-oversight-hearing-epa-renewable-fuel-standard-mandate


At the recent President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) meeting, there was an update from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its leading commercial space industry partners on the progress being made in new frontiers in human space exploration.

The primary focus of the human space exploration session was to review the efforts NASA and its international and commercial partners are undertaking to develop a mission to Mars as early as the 2030s.  Initial efforts include the International Space Station (ISS) already in operation; the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy launch lift vehicle under development; the Orion space capsule under development; the commercial crew program in its infancy; and plans for several missions with increasing distance from Earth over the next few decades.

Testifying before PCAST on this topic were Charles Bolden, Jr., the NASA Administrator; William (Bill) Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations; Garrett Reisman, the Director of Crew Operations for SpaceX; and John Elbon, Vice President and General Manager for Space Exploration at Boeing.

Bolden began by praising the arrival of the New Horizons spacecraft to the dwarf planet Pluto and the release of the first high-resolution photos of Pluto.  Bolden then pointed out that all four of the major NASA directorates are now working together in an unprecedented way toward the common goal of getting humankind to Mars. Much like the ISS, Bolden said the Mars effort will be an international effort, with multiple nations participating.   The “starting five” as he called them are the five nations that run the ISS today: the European Space Agency; the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos; NASA; the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA; and the Canadian Space Agency. 

Gerstenmaier emphasized that the journey to Mars will come in small steps that will eventually lead to a final mission to send humans to the Red Planet.  In particular, Gerstenmaier organized the journey into three stages, each with increasing independence from the Earth and progressive steps toward the final goal of complete independence. 

Reisman, representing SpaceX, emphasized that the work of his company in advancing human space flight is rooted in a mission fully aligned with NASA’s.  Reisman focused on the role that SpaceX is playing in reducing the cost of human space flight, which he argued will be critical to succeeding on the journey to Mars.  He also said, “Rapid affordable reusability we think is going to change the economics of space flight and lead to incredibly wonderful things in low Earth orbit and beyond, hopefully enabling all the things that NASA is working on.

The webcast and full written testimony can be reviewed at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/meetings/past.

Visit the ASME Public Policy Education Center at http://ppec.asme.org/ for daily news and policy developments, including the following:

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