In this issue:

 

 

ENGINEERING AND SCIENTIFIC GROUPS URGE DEFICIT COMMITTEE TO REFRAIN FROM R&D FUNDING CUTS

ASME was among the approximately 70 engineering and scientific societies and associations, universities, and organizations that signed a letter authored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) urging a special congressional committee to avoid cutting research and development (R&D) funding. That committee is charged with crafting a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars during the next ten years.  If the committee cannot agree upon a plan by November 23rd, or if Congress does not adopt it a month later, the Budget Control Act mandates automatic reductions in federal spending for all federal discretionary agencies in January 2013.

The letter reads, in part, as follows:  “As representatives of U.S. science, engineering, and higher education organizations, we urge you to strongly support the federal research budget and its mission to advance a balanced portfolio of scientific and technological discovery and innovation that has fueled American economic growth and rising standards of living for decades.

“Science and discovery are important aspects of the American national character. American ingenuity is still the best reason for long-term optimism about the U.S. economy and the well-being of its people. An effective path out of the current difficulties should include investments in R&D. They can fuel our future growth and prosperity.”

The complete letter, as well as a list of the signatory organizations, may be reviewed at: http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2011/media/1101deficit_committee_letter.pdf

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related research and development (R&D) issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org

 

 

ADMINISTRATION UNVEILS LEASING PLAN FOR OIL AND GAS

Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau announced last week that BOEM will hold the first oil and natural gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.

In total, the Interior Department has proposed more than a dozen lease sales from 2012 to 2017, most of which would occur in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.  Two leases would also be offered in the eastern Gulf and one each in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas and Cook Inlet.  The other side of the exploration process, permit issuance, remains to be seen.  The Gulf Horizon Oil Spill last year sputtered previous Administration plans to open up areas of the mid-Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration.

It is the Administration's first five-year leasing plan since it scrapped a proposal by the Bush Administration to significantly expand offshore drilling.  The reaction has been mixed; environmental groups are condemning the decision to allow any new leases, while some Congressional leaders have been equally dismayed by what they view to be too few leases. 

In 2008, a 125-mile restriction on oil-and-gas exploration was lifted when Congress declined to renew a policy rider that restricted the DOI from granting leases within that zone.  Members of Gulf coast states, particularly Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), have been seeking to establish a federal-state revenue sharing provision that would allow states to reap part of the revenues generated from granting leases to companies.  Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) opposes such a measure. 

For more information about the DOI plan to grant leases for oil and gas, please visit: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Salazar-Beaudreau-Announce-Western-Gulf-of-Mexico-Oil-and-Gas-Lease-Sale.cfm

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

NIST TO HELP SPEED TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER FROM FEDERAL LABS

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will play a significant role in helping speed the transfer of federal research and development from the laboratory to the marketplace, as part of a plan laid out in a Presidential Memorandum issued on October 28, 2011. The goal is to help U.S. businesses create jobs and strengthen their competitiveness in a global economy. The Presidential Memorandum caps an extensive effort by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and widely supported by the Department of Commerce and other agencies, to accelerate innovation.

Through its existing role coordinating the Interagency Workgroup on Technology Transfer, NIST will help lead agencies with federal laboratories to develop plans that establish performance goals to increase the number and pace of effective technology transfer and commercialization activities in partnership with non-federal organizations. The group also will be responsible for recommending opportunities to improve technology transfer from federal labs and for refining how tech transfer is defined, to better capture data on all of the ways it happens. NIST will coordinate development and analysis of appropriate metrics and will continue to report and analyze results through its annual report on technology transfer, which covers 11 federal agencies.

The full text of the White House press release on the Presidential Memorandum can be reviewed at: www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/28/we-cant-wait-obama-administration-announces-two-steps-help-businesses-cr

The most recent “Federal Laboratory Technology Transfer Summary Reports” are also available at: www.nist.gov/tpo/publications/index.cfm

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related research and development (R&D) issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org

 

 

NEW NAEP RESULTS: MATH SCORES INCREASE, READING BASICALLY FLAT

On November 1, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” released its 2011 report cards for reading and mathematics.  The results showed the highest mathematics scores to date for U.S. fourth and eighth graders, while U.S. student reading performance was mixed with fourth grade reading scores flat.  The 2011 assessments were administered by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education.

An Education Week analysis of the report cards said that, “Since 1992, the average scale score in 4th grade reading has climbed just 4 points, to 221, on a 0-to-500 scale. At the 8th grade, the average score has risen 5 points.  By contrast, in math, 4th grade scores have climbed 21 points over the same time period, and 16 points for 8th graders. From 2009 to 2011, the figures at both grade levels climbed 1 point, as well as 8th grade reading.”

Achieving proficiency in reading and math, however, still remains an unattainable goal for most U.S. students. The 2011 data show that only about one-third of U.S. students reach that level or higher in reading, or eighth grade math.  Looking at fourth grade math scores, the number is only slightly higher at forty percent.

In addition, large achievement gaps remain among racial and ethnic groups, especially when comparing Hispanic and African American students to white students.  Although progress has been made across all groups over the past twenty years, the achievement gaps have not narrowed significantly.  In fact, “the 2011 reading and math results produced no statistically significant changes in the black-white achievement gap from 2009.”

Further analysis of the 2011 NAEP report cards can be found at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/11/01/11naep.h31.html?tkn=OLZFVoY5yXb4mwDF9uY3SCJPBguHJ2VNKMfn&cmp=clp-edweek

 To review the 2011 report cards in reading and mathematics, please visit: http://www.nagb.org/reading-math-2011/

Melissa Carl handles public policy-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education issues for ASME.  She can be reached at: carlm@asme.org

 

 

NEW PLAN TO DELAY EPA RULES INTRODUCED IN SENATE

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) continues to be a popular source for proposed reform by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.  Last week, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Coats (R-IN) recently introduced the bipartisan “Fair Compliance Act” in order to extend the compliance deadline for the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) by three years and the deadline for the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule by two years. Both deadlines would fall on January 1, 2017. Additional co-sponsors of the legislation include Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). 

The Manchin-Coats bill would provide utilities with an extension of time and synchronize the implementation schedule for complying with the rules. Under the current EPA rules, the compliance date for Utility MACT is January 1, 2015. The deadline for Phase I of the CSAPR is January 1, 2012 and Phase II is January 1, 2014. The Manchin-Coats bill would postpone Phase I until January 1, 2015 and Phase II of CSAPR until January 1, 2017. The compliance date is the date by which a utility either must have installed emissions controls or retired the plant.

The bill would also require utilities to submit implementation plans to ensure compliance occurs. To safeguard the reliability of the electric grid and avoid brownouts, utilities would need to submit their implementation plans to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

A fact sheet describing “The Fair Compliance Act of 2011” is available at: http://www.manchin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=557b48ee-82b6-4ca0-afc3-4b0767b9e2ee

Also last week, an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) sought to eliminate EPA’s “Good Neighbor” rule on cross-state air pollution, and failed by a vote of 41-56.  The rule, finalized in July, is intended to control emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 states that have been identified as offenders by emitting in downwind Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.

Robert Rains handles public policy-related environmental issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

EPA RELEASES FINAL PLAN TO STUDY HYDRAULIC FRACTURING

On November 3, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final plan for a multi-year study of hydraulic fracturing, also referred to as “fracking.” Initially mandated by Congress, the study examines the alleged relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. More specifically, the study was designed to assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and to identify the driving factors that affect the severity and frequency of any impacts.

Entitled the “Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources,” the study emphasizes hydraulic fracturing in shale formations. Portions of the research will also provide information on hydraulic fracturing in coal bed methane and tight sand reservoirs. The scope of the research includes the hydraulic fracturing water use lifecycle, which is a subset of the greater hydrologic cycle. For the purposes of this study, the hydraulic fracturing water lifecycle consists of water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”), and wastewater treatment and waste disposal.

The EPA study is designed to provide decision-makers and the public with answers to the five fundamental questions associated with the hydraulic fracturing water lifecycle:

  • Water Acquisition: What are the potential impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters on drinking water resources?
  • Chemical Mixing: What are the possible impacts of surface spills on or near well pads of hydraulic fracturing fluids on drinking water resources?
  • Well Injection: What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?
  • Flowback and Produced Water: What are the possible impacts of surface spills on or near well pads of flowback and produced water on drinking water resources?
  • Wastewater Treatment and Waste Disposal: What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewaters on drinking water resources?

The initial research results and study findings will be released to the public in 2012. The final report will be delivered in 2014.

The 199-page plan is available at: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/upload/hf_study_plan_110211_final_508.pdf

Additional information on hydraulic fracturing may be found at: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/index.cfm

Robert Rains handles public policy-related environmental issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

DOE AND MIT LAUNCH NEW ONLINE RESEARCH TOOL

Researchers from the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have jointly launched a new online tool called the “Materials Project,” which operates like a “Google” of material properties, enabling scientists and engineers from universities, national laboratories and private industry to accelerate the development of new materials, including critical materials.

Discovering new materials and strengthening the properties of existing materials are key to improving just about everything humans use, from buildings and highways to modern necessities. For example, advances in a group of materials called “critical materials” are more important to America’s competitiveness than ever before, particularly in the clean energy field.  Cell phones, wind turbines, solar panels and a variety of military technologies depend on these roughly 14 elements (including nine “rare earth” elements).  With about 90 percent coming from China, there are growing concerns about potential supply shortages and disruptions.

With the Materials Project, researchers can use supercomputers to characterize properties of inorganic compounds, including their stability, voltage, capacity, and oxidation state, which had previously not been possible. The results are then organized into a database that gives all researchers at DOE’s national labs free access. This database already contains the properties of more than 15,000 inorganic compounds, and hundreds of more compounds are added every day.  

For additional information, refer to: http://www.materialsproject.org/

Rare earth minerals have been on Congress’ radar for some time, and hearings have been held in several committees examining the potential impact on the U.S with its aforementioned dependence on China for these materials.  China holds 37 percent of the world’s known reserves of the metals within its territory, and its capacity to process rare earths outpaces any other nation.  The U.S. holds 13 percent of the world’s reserves, but has the potential to greatly enhance this supply through strategic mining, according to a report issued by the U.S. Geological Survey earlier this year.  The U.S. Geological Survey has also expressed the need for the U.S. to establish a detailed inventory of U.S. and global critical mineral resources. 

To learn more about this U.S. Geological Study report, please visit: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earths/

In a related development, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) has announced the creation of a new congressional caucus to focus on the domestic supply of rare earth elements and growing downstream industries. The move is in response to a new group called the Association of Rare Earth, also known as RARE, which sent lawmakers a letter in October urging them to create caucuses on the issue.

To read the press release announcing the new caucus, go to: http://coffman.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=531:november-9-2011-coffman-forms-new-caucus-to-push-for-rare-earths-supply-chain&catid=36:latest-news&Itemid=10

For information on RARE, visit http://www.rareearthassociation.org/

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

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.

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