May 19, 2014
Capitol Update

In this issue:

 

HOUSE PASSES AMERICAN RESEARCH AND COMPETITIVENESS ACT OF 2014

On May 9th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014 (H.R. 4438), a bill which amends the Internal Revenue Code to establish a permanent research tax credit that allows for:

  • 20 percent of the qualified or basic research expenses that exceed 50 percent of the average qualified or basic research expenses for the three preceding taxable years; and,
  •  20 percent of amounts paid to an energy research consortium for energy research.

The bill reduces such credit rate to 10 percent if a taxpayer has no qualified research expenses in any one of the three preceding taxable years. The legislation passed by a margin of 274 to 131.

The research and development (R&D) credit has been part of the U.S. tax code since 1981. Renewed year after year, the credit has long been bipartisan and has been shown an effective way to incentivize U.S. companies to innovate, create new products, and invest in the U.S.

Many in the S&T industry argue that making the R&D tax credit permanent is an important step in promoting an expansion of U.S. R&D activities. The United States was once the world leader in providing research incentives to U.S. companies, but many countries now offer more generous incentives for S&T intensive industries.

The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that making the R&D credit permanent could increase the amount of research and development American companies undertake by up to 10 percent. That could translate into more workers, higher wages and increased innovation in the U.S.

Additional information on the R&D tax credit is available at: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=379408

 

COMMITTEE APPROVES BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO REFORM APPROVAL OF CROSS-BORDER ENERGY PROJECTS

On May 8th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 3301, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, by a bipartisan vote of 31 to 19. Authored by full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), the legislation would modernize and reform the approval process for energy infrastructure projects that cross the borders of the United States with Canada or Mexico. The legislation replaces the current Presidential Permit process created by a series of executive orders, and would help facilitate the construction of new job-creating energy infrastructure projects needed to transport North America’s growing energy supplies.

As amended, H.R. 3301:

  • Eliminates the Presidential Permit requirement for construction or modification of oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission facilities that cross the national boundary of the U.S.
  • Requires a “certificate of crossing” for construction of any segment of an oil pipeline or electric transmission line that crosses the border of the U.S. with Canada or Mexico. This certificate of crossing is subject to review and approval under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • Requires the agency to issue a “certificate of crossing” within 120 days of completion of NEPA required reviews unless the agency finds construction of the cross-border segment is not in the “public interest” of the U.S.
  • Requires approval under section 3 of the Natural Gas Act for natural gas cross-border pipelines, consistent with current policy.
  • Provides that the “certificate of crossing” will be issued by the Secretary of State for oil pipelines, the Department of Energy for electric transmission lines, and FERC will continue to approve cross-border natural gas pipelines.

For additional information, visit: http://energycommerce.house.gov/press-release/committee-approves-bipartisan-legislation-reform-approval-cross-border-energy-projects

 

SENATORS BOXER, SANDERS AND MARKEY INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO INCREASE SAFETY AT NUCLEAR PLANTS

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) introduced three bills on May 13th aimed at improving the safety and security of decommissioning reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants across the nation.

When spent nuclear fuel is removed from the part of the reactor that generates electricity, it continues to produce significant quantities of heat and radiation for years. Spent nuclear fuel is too dangerous to be removed from the spent fuel pools for five to seven years. Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and independent experts have shown that partial draining of the water from a spent fuel pool caused by an accident or terrorist attack could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination. However, NRC regulations allow spent fuel to remain stored in spent fuel pools until the reactor completes decommissioning, which can take as long as 60 years. Current NRC regulations also allow the NRC and the nuclear plant operator to adopt a decommissioning plan without considering the concerns of nearby states and communities. The three bills would address all of these issues. Each bill is briefly summarized below.

  • S.2324, Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014 (Boxer, Sanders, Markey) The Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014 would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing exemptions from its emergency response or security requirements for spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors that have permanently shut down until all of the spent nuclear fuel stored at the site has been moved into dry casks, which are a more secure and safe option for storage. NRC has determined that earthquakes would be the most likely cause of a spent fuel pool failure that could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination, but has granted every request from emergency response requirements that it has ever received from a licensee of a decommissioning reactor.
  • S.2326, Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 (Sanders, Boxer, Markey) The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 would ensure that states and local communities have a role in the crafting and preparation of decommissioning plans for retired nuclear plants located in those areas. The bill also requires NRC to publicly and transparently approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan, which it currently is not required to do.
  • S.2325, Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014 (Markey, Boxer, Sanders) The Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014 would ensure that every nuclear reactor operator complies with an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within 7 years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC. The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles.

To view the full text of each bill, visit: http://beta.congress.gov/

 

GAO ANALYSIS: NASA NEEDS TO TAKE ACTIONS TO IMPROVE TRANSPARENCY AND ASSESS LONG-TERM AFFORDABILITY OF HUMAN EXPLORATION PROGRAMS

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is undertaking a trio of closely-related programs to continue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit: the SLS vehicle; the Orion capsule, which will launch atop the SLS and carry astronauts; and, the supporting ground systems. As a whole, the efforts represent NASA's largest exploration investment over the next decade, potentially as much as $22 billion, to demonstrate initial capabilities. Beyond 2021, NASA plans to incrementally develop progressively more-capable SLS launch vehicles complemented by Orion capsules and ground systems.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to assess the costs of NASA's human exploration program. This analysis examined the scope of NASA's preliminary cost estimates for the three programs. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed the aforementioned cost estimates, discussed the estimates with NASA officials, and assessed the estimates against best practices criteria in GAO's cost estimating guidebook as well as NASA's own requirements and guidance.

GAO found that the scope of NASA's preliminary cost estimates for the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion), and associated ground systems encompasses only the programs' initial capabilities and does not include the long-term, life cycle costs associated with the programs or significant prior costs:

  • The SLS estimate is based on the funding required to develop and operate the initial 70-metric ton variant through first flight in 2017 but not the costs for its second flight in 2021. NASA is now incurring some costs related to the second flight, but it is not currently tracking those costs for life cycle cost estimating purposes. Furthermore, the estimate does not include costs to incrementally design, develop, and produce future 105- and 130-metric ton SLS variants which NASA expects to use for decades. NASA is now funding concept development and analysis related to these capabilities.
  • The Orion estimate does not include costs for production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew capsules, despite plans to use and possibly enhance this capsule after 2021. It also does not include $4.7 billion in prior costs incurred during the approximately 4 years when Orion was being developed as part of NASA's now-defunct Constellation program.
  • The ground systems estimate excludes costs to develop or operate the ground systems infrastructure beyond 2017, although NASA intends to modify ground architecture to accommodate all SLS variants.

GAO has recommended that NASA should establish separate cost baselines that address the life cycle of each SLS increment, as well as for any evolved Orion or ground systems capability, among other actions to enable assessment of affordability and enhance oversight.

To read the 24-page analysis, go to: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-385, and click on the View Report link.

 

SEVENTY-FIVE STUDENTS TO RECEIVE NUCLEAR ENERGY SCHOLARSHIPS AND FELLOWSHIPS

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that over $5 million will go to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing nuclear science and engineering degrees. The awards include 42 undergraduate scholarships and 33 graduate-level fellowships for students studying at U.S. colleges and universities.

As part of the awards, each undergraduate scholarship provides $5,000 to help cover education costs for the upcoming year, while the three-year graduate fellowships provide $50,000 each year to help pay for graduate studies and research. Fellowships also include $5,000 to fund a summer internship at a U.S. national laboratory or other approved facility to strengthen the ties between students and the Department's nuclear energy research programs.

Since 2009, the Energy Department has awarded over $23 million to nearly 430 students for nuclear energy scholarships and fellowships. Over 95 percent of the fellowship students who have completed the program are now pursuing careers in nuclear energy fields at the Department's national laboratories, other government agencies, academic institutions or private companies.

Additional information about the Energy Department's nuclear energy scholarships and fellowships can be found at: https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=600&mode=2

 

NIST AWARDS 19 ADVANCED MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGY PLANNING GRANTS

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently awarded 19 advanced manufacturing technology planning grants totaling $9 million to new or existing industry-driven consortia to develop technology roadmaps aimed at strengthening U.S. manufacturing and innovation performance across a wide spectrum of industries.

The grants, awarded to universities and other nonprofit organizations, are the first conferred by NIST's new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program. They range from $378,900 to $540,000 for a period of up to two years.

The funded projects will identify and rank research and development goals, define workforce needs, and initiate other steps toward speeding technology development and transfer and improving manufacturing capabilities. Project collaborations span a wide variety of industries and technologies, from flexible-electronics manufacturing to bio-manufacturing and from pulp-and-paper manufacturing to forming and joining technologies.

Technology road-mapping is a key component of all funded projects. Each consortium will engage manufacturers of all sizes, university researchers, trade associations and other stakeholders in an interactive process to identify and prioritize research projects that reduce shared barriers to the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States. In conjunction with developing technology roadmaps, the projects will undertake related tasks such as defining challenges specific to building robust domestic supply chains and establishing skill-set requirements for an advanced manufacturing workforce.

Established in 2013, the AMTech program aims to catalyze partnerships between U.S. industry, academia, and government that will support efforts to meet the long-term research needs of U.S. industry. A specific objective is to enable new, or to strengthen existing, industry-led technology consortia for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing research projects that reduce barriers to the growth of advanced manufacturing.

On July 24, 2013, the program announced its inaugural competition for planning grants. It received 82 applications seeking a total of $37.4 million in funding. Of the 19 consortia that received grants, 11 are new efforts that will be launched with AMTech funding. Applications for these projects included letters of commitment from companies and other prospective partners.

To read summaries of the AMTech-funded projects and to see maps showing the locations of the projects' lead organizations and their funded partners, go to: www.nist.gov/amo/fundedawards.cfm

 

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