June 17, 2016
Capitol Update

In this issue:


SUPREME COURT REJECTS CHALLENGE TO EPA MERCURY RULE

The Supreme Court recently rejected a state-led challenge to the EPA’s mercury emissions regulations, upholding a key part of the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda.

Nearly two dozen states had asked the court to overturn a lower court’s decision affirming the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule. The EPA rule aims to cut toxic mercury emissions from power plants, and has now survived three court challenges since it was first implemented in 2011. The court did not give a reason for rejecting the state’s request.

The MATS rule sets limits on hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants, such as mercury, arsenic, chromium and hydrochloric acid gas. The rule became effective in April 2015. Previously, there had been no federal standards that require power plants to limit their emissions of toxic air pollutants like mercury, arsenic and metals - despite the availability of proven control technologies, and the more than 20 years since the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments passed.

The rule is expected to cost the industry roughly $9.6 billion to comply. Conservative lawmakers and industry have argued that the MATS rule is to blame for the closure of hundreds of coal-fired power plants over the last few years.

Despite these dramatic shifts in industry, the EPA has argued that the public health benefits from cleaner air outweigh the costs of additional regulation. The EPA estimates that air quality improvements for people's health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year, or $3 to $9 in health benefits for every $1 spent on clean air regulations.

Opponents of the rule asked both the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court to block continued implementation of the rule, but the courts rejected the requests. In April, the EPA told the court that the costs of compliance to the industry were reasonable and justified in the face of the need to protect public health.

The Obama Administrations Clean Power Plan, which is separate from the MATS rule, will be reviewed by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in September.

More information on the MATS rule is available at: https://www.epa.gov/mats/basic-information-about-mercury-and-air-toxics-standards


CONGRESS APPROVES PIPELINE SAFETY REAUTHORIZATION

Both Houses of Congress recently cleared a bill that reauthorizes the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through fiscal 2019 and grants the agency additional regulatory responsibilities in the aftermath of the Porter Ranch underground natural gas reservoir leak and other hazardous materials spills.

The bill, S. 2276, resulted from a bipartisan collaboration among members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce committees. Each committee had passed its own version of an agency reauthorization bill earlier this year; the final bill incorporates parts of those measures into a single, bipartisan package for the President’s signature.

Besides authorizing $720 million for PHMSA programs for four years, the bill allows the issuance of emergency orders placing restrictions on pipeline usage during an emergency and directs PHMSA to create baseline safety regulations for underground national gas storage facilities. PHMSA had been operating without authorization since the last one expired at the end of fiscal 2015.

The bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to create a user fee on pipeline operators to fund the new minimum safety standards and allows PHMSA to restrict owners and operators of pipeline facilities in violation of safety standards. The bill would establish the Great Lakes, coastal beaches and coastal waters as particularly sensitive environments, and subject to stricter regulations of pipelines.

The final bill is available at: https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2276/BILLS-114s2276eah.xml


DOE INVESTS $82 MILLION IN ADVANCED NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced over $82 million in nuclear energy research, facility access, crosscutting technology development, and infrastructure awards in 28 states. In total, 93 projects were selected to receive funding that will help push innovative nuclear technologies toward commercialization and into the market.

These awards provide funding for nuclear energy-related research through the Nuclear Energy University Program, Nuclear Science User Facilities, and Nuclear Energy Enabling Technology programs. In addition to financial support, a number of recipients will receive technical and regulatory assistance through the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative.

“Nuclear power is our nation’s largest source of low-carbon electricity and is a vital component in our efforts to both provide affordable and reliable electricity and to combat climate change,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “These awards will help scientists and engineers as they continue to innovate with advanced nuclear technologies.”

Key program categories include:

  • Nuclear Energy University Program - DOE is awarding nearly $36 million through its Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to support 49 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects in 24 states. NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering students and faculty members opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities. Additionally, 15 universities will receive nearly $6 million for research reactor and infrastructure improvements – providing important safety-, performance-, and student education-related upgrades to a portion of the nation’s 25 university research reactors as well as enhancing university research and training infrastructure.
  • Public Private Partnerships - The awards recently announced are part of a significant first set of actions to implement the GAIN initiative that was announced November 2015, which provides the nuclear energy community with access to the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move new or advanced nuclear reactor designs toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet.
  • Integrated Research Projects - The Department is also awarding $21 million for 6 Integrated Research Projects (IRPs), which include a jointly-funded project between the Office of Nuclear Energy and the Office of Environmental Management for enhanced glass forms for nuclear waste immobilization.
  • Crosscutting Research Projects - Additionally, nearly $7 million will be awarded for seven research and development projects led by Department of Energy national laboratories, industry and U.S. universities to conduct research to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges that will help to develop advanced sensors and instrumentation, advanced manufacturing methods, and materials for multiple nuclear reactor plant and fuel applications. Multiple additive manufacturing techniques and a solid-phase cladding process will undergo microstructural and mechanical testing and irradiation evaluation. A rapid qualification process for laser-based powder bed additive manufacturing will also be examined.
  • Nuclear Science User Facilities - DOE has selected eight university, two national laboratory, and one industry-led project that will take advantage of NSUF capabilities to investigate important nuclear fuel and material applications. DOE will fund over $9 million in facility access costs and expertise for experimental neutron and ion irradiation testing, post-irradiation examination facilities, synchrotron beamline capabilities, and technical assistance for design and analysis of experiments through the NSUF. Additionally, the Department of Energy is awarding over $1 million for three projects at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory for further materials and instrumentation research. Additional information can be found here.

Since 2009, the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy has awarded approximately $464 million to 113 U.S. colleges and universities to continue American leadership in clean energy innovation and to train the next generation of nuclear engineers and scientists through its university programs. For further information, go to: neup.gov or Energy.gov


STEM EDUCATION COALITION SENDS ESSA GUIDANCE RECOMMENDATIONS TO DEPTMART OF EDUCATION

The STEM Education Coalition’s Leadership Council, of which ASME is the engineering co-chair, recently sent feedback to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on the implementation of STEM-related provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The following recommendations are in the recent guidance:

  • ED should strongly recommend that states and districts use Title II funds on professional development activities for STEM educators. These professional development programs should have effective features including a content focus, active teacher participation, and sufficient duration to allow repeated practice.
  • ED should define a “high-quality course” broadly enough to include either traditional in-classroom learning or less-traditional, project-based, activities.
  • ED should incorporate real-world challenges, as a precursor or complement to education, as part educational activities.
  • ED should encourage states to use state afterschool and STEM networks as resources as they implement these provisions.
To review the STEM Ed Coalition’s guidance, please visit: http://www.stemedcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Input-on-ESSA-STEM-Implementation-May-2016.pdf


HOUSE AND SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEES PASS CJS APPROPRIATIONS BILLS

The House Appropriations Committee recently approved the Fiscal Year 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) program through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It would allocate $865M for NIST ($109M below the Senate and $99M below FY2016), of which $130M would be for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and $5M would be for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The House’s $5M for NNMI is $20M below both the Senate’s allocations and FY2016 levels, and is also $42M below the President’s request.

The Senate’s CJS Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for the NNMI at last year’s levels, was supposed to be taken up on the Senate floor this week. However, House and Senate Democrats, in reaction to the recent Orlando nightclub tragedy, are blocking the measure from moving forward by trying to add a gun control provision, which will slow the appropriations process.

To view the bills and associated documents, please visit the following:


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