In this issue:

 

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA HONORS INNOVATORS

In late September, President Obama announced recipients for both the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. The recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.

"Each of these extraordinary scientists, engineers, and inventors is guided by a passion for innovation, a fearlessness even as they explore the very frontiers of human knowledge, and a desire to make the world a better place," President Obama said. "Their ingenuity inspires us all to reach higher and try harder, no matter how difficult the challenges we face."

Created by statute in 1959, the National Medal of Science is administered on behalf of the White House by the National Science Foundation on an annual basis. Nominees are selected by a committee of Presidential appointees based on their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, and the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences.

The Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was created by statute in 1980 and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and helped strengthen the Nation’s technological workforce. Nominees are selected by a distinguished independent committee representing the private and public sectors.

Among the National Medal of Science recipients was ASME Fellow Dr. Shu Chien, who is Director of the University of California San Diego Institute for Engineering in Medicine. The full list of recipients for both awards can be found at: President Obama Honors Nation’s Top Scientists and Innovators

 

 

SS&T SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON CLEAN AIR SCIENCE

On October 4th, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee held a hearing to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act.

Specifically, the Subcommittee sought testimony from a panel of witnesses on:

  • The role of scientific advice from the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and similar bodies;
  • The economic underpinnings of EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analyses;
  • The assumptions, models, and data used in projecting compliance, as well as the technological standards necessary to achieve compliance; and,
  • The environmental benefits associated with proposed and finalized rules.

The hearing witnesses' views of EPA process were mixed. Dr. Anne E. Smith, Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting, said, “As EPA releases each of its proposed and final air quality rules, it typically emphasizes that the rule will generate health benefits that exceed its costs," Dr. Smith said. "However, close inspection of the associated RIAs reveals that a majority of those benefits – sometimes all of them – are not from reductions in the pollutant(s) being targeted by the new regulation." Dr. George Thurston disagreed, saying, "There is coherence between the epidemiologic study associations and experimental study results, validating that there is indeed a cause-effect relationship between air pollution and adverse human health effects. … Cleaning the air causes improvements in public health, saving lives, and improving the quality of life of all Americans."

Heavily criticized by lawmakers this session of Congress who view the EPA’s regulations as too intrusive, the Administration has recently rolled back several planned rulemakings, including a recent decision to retain current ozone restrictions. The EPA has also pared back, for the second time this year, a rule seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions that was finalized in July.

The Subcommittee Chairman’s opening statement, as well as the written testimony of the witnesses, is available for review at: Energy and Environment Subcommittee Hearing: Quality Science for Quality Air. The archived webcast of the hearing is also available at the link, above.

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

 

 

SENATE COMMITTEE HEARS TESTIMONY ON SECRETARY OF ENERGY ADVISORY BOARD'S SHALE GAS PRODUCTION SUBCOMMITTEE'S 90-DAY REPORT

On October 4th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in order to receive testimony on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's Shale Gas Production Subcommittee's 90-day report, and to discuss the virtues, and detriments, of an expanded federal role in the emerging energy technology of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Witnesses offered praise for state regulators' efforts to police the rapidly growing shale gas drilling industry. However, they concurred that surface leaks and spills and well blowouts need to be more carefully evaluated. There was additional concurrence by the panel that the states remain the ideal realm for regulating fracking. The Energy Policy Act (P.L. 109-58) amended the Underground Injection Control ("UIC") provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (P.L. 93-503) to exempt hydraulic fracturing within the definition of "underground injection." The UIC program is intended to identify, and protect, underground sources of drinking water from contamination by underground injection of hazardous and non-hazardous fluids. The EPA has also been studying the topic through the lens of the UIC program, and recently concluded a comment period regarding fracking safety concerns. The Subcommittee will release a second report expanding on its recommendations and conclusions in about six weeks.

To read the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's report, please visit: Shale Gas Production Subcommittee 90-day Report

To learn more about the EPA's efforts related to fracking, please visit: Hydraulic Fracturing

Chairman Jeff Bingaman's (D-NM) opening statement is also available at: Chairman Bingaman on Shale Gas

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

 

 

HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE RELEASES THE DRAFT FISCAL YEAR 2012 DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FUNDING BILL

The House Appropriations Committee recently released the draft fiscal year (FY) 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill which includes funding for programs within the Department of Education, as well as the National Institutes of Health.

The Department of Education is funded at $69 billion in the legislation, which is $2.4 billion (minus three percent) below last year's level and $11.5 billion (minus 14 percent) below the budget request. The bill eliminates more than 30 programs that the House deemed to be duplicative, inefficient, or unauthorized, including the Math and Science Partnership program, and the Administration's "Race to the Top" program. Other highlights of the measure include:

  • Title I Program: These grants to local school districts that help children from lower socioeconomic background become proficient in reading and math are funded at $15.5 billion, which is $1 billion above last year's level.
  • Pell Grants: The maximum Pell Grant award is continued at $5,550. In addition, the bill includes reforms to the program to reduce costs by $3.6 billion in FY 2012. These reforms include: limiting the lifetime eligibility for Pell Grants to six years (reduced from nine years); rolling back recent changes to the qualification formula; eliminating eligibility for students who attend school less than half time or students who do not have a high school diploma or GED; and, better targeting the funding to the neediest students.
  • Special Education: Special Education grants to states are funded at $12.7 billion in the legislation, an increase of $1.2 billion above last year's level. This will raise the federal percentage of special education funding from 16.1 percent to 17.3 percent, allowing states and communities to better fund required special education services.

The bill also provides the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with $31.7 billion in program funding, which is $1 billion (3.3 percent) over last year's level and the same as the request. In addition, the bill includes:

  • $322 million of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering;
  • $488 million for Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards; and,
  • $331 million for Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) programs.

The funding level in the bill will support the request level of at least 9,150 new and competing research project grants, an increase of about 450 from the FY 2011 projection.

To review the Appropriations Committee's press release about the proposed LHHS FY 2012 funding measure, please visit: Appropriations Committee Releases the Draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services Funding Bill

The draft text of the full proposal is available at: Funding bill draft text

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

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related NIH issues for ASME. He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org

 

 

NRC REPORT: U.S. UNLIKELY TO MEET SPECIFIC BIOFUEL MANDATES UNDER THE CURRENT RFS BY 2022; BIPARTISAN "RENEWABLE FUEL FLEXIBILITY ACT" INTRODUCED

A new report released by the National Research Council (NRC) concludes that it is unlikely the United States will meet some specific biofuel mandates under the current Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by 2022 unless innovative technologies are developed or policies change. The report also posits that achieving this standard would likely increase federal budget outlays as well as have mixed economic and environmental effects.

The RFS was enacted as part of the 2005 "Energy Policy (EPAct) Act" (P.L. 109-58), and amended in the 2007 "Energy Independence and Security (EISA) Act (P.L. 110-140)." The amended standard mandated that by 2022 the consumption volume of the renewable fuels should consist of:

  • 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels, mainly corn-grain ethanol;
  • One billion gallons of biomass-based diesel fuel;
  • Four billion gallons of advanced renewable biofuels, other than ethanol derived from cornstarch, that achieve a life-cycle greenhouse gas threshold of at least 50 percent; and,
  • 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels produced from wood, grasses, or non-edible plant parts -- such as from corn stalks and wheat straw.

Except for biodiesel, these volumes are measured in ethanol units. Among the key conclusions of the report are the following:

  • Production of adequate volumes of biofuels are expected to meet consumption mandates for conventional biofuels and biomass-based diesel fuel;
  • Whether and how the mandate for cellulosic biofuels will be met is uncertain;
  • The extent to which using biofuels rather than petroleum will reduce greenhouse gas emissions is uncertain;
  • Only in an economic environment characterized by high oil prices, technological breakthroughs, and a high implicit or actual carbon price would biofuels be cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels;
  • Achieving the RFS would increase the federal budget outlays, mostly as a result of increased spending on grants, loans, loan guarantees, and other payments to support the development of cellulosic biofuels and foregone revenue as a result of biofuel tax credits; and,
  • Key barriers to achieving the renewable fuel mandate are the high cost of producing cellulosic biofuels compared with petroleum-based fuels and uncertainties in future biofuel markets.

Publicly, the DOE does not expect cellulosic output to reach its first 1 billion gallons until 2018. Reflective of this current market reality, the EPA has scaled back its annual production quotas each year since the 2007 EISA bill was enacted, in order to reflect this market reality. The law requires companies that produce gasoline to blend in 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol for 2011, but the Environmental Protection Agency reduced that quota to just six million gallons.

The 650-page report, "Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy," may be read on-line at: Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy

In a related development, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jim Costa (D-CA) last week introduced the "Renewable Fuel Standard Flexibility Act," to give relief to livestock producers, dairymen and consumers. The bipartisan legislation will link the amount of corn ethanol required to fulfill the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to the actual U.S. corn supply.

The mandated level will be determined based upon biannual reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the corn stocks-to-use ratios. When the corn supply is tight, the legislation outlines a mechanism that will reduce the level of the corn-based ethanol required in the RFS.

A summary of the legislation may be reviewed at: http://costa.house.gov/images/pdfs/rfssummary1042011.pdf

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

 

 

ASME ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR SUMMER POLICY INTERNSHIP

Ranked as one of the best internships in the U.S. by the Princeton Review, WISE (Washington Internships for Students of Engineering) offers a unique opportunity to 3rd and 4th year engineering students to spend the summer of 2012 in Washington, D.C., learning about the interaction of technology and public policy. The dates of the 2012 WISE program are June 4- August 3, 2012.

Selected from a nationwide competition, WISE Interns spend nine weeks learning how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues and how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions. At the end of the nine weeks, interns produce a public policy paper on a topic of interest, i.e. alternate energy, and present their findings on Capitol Hill.

After the completion of her internship, 2010 ASME WISE intern Phi Nguyen said, "The WISE program provided me an interesting opportunity to see first-hand how public policy decisions can directly affect the field of engineering. With this knowledge, I now understand why it is so important for engineers to be aware of what is going on in Washington and get involved in the process."

2011 ASME WISE intern Julian Leland agreed, saying "The WISE program presented the perfect opportunity for me to pursue my passion for engineering and my interest in public policy."

ASME is now accepting applications for its 2012 WISE intern. The ASME application can downloaded at http://www.wise-intern.org, and this year's application deadline is December 31, 2011. To see examples of previous year's policy papers, please visit: Papers and presentations by WISE interns

In addition to 3rd and 4th year engineering students, recent graduates, beginning study in an engineering policy-related Master's program, will also be considered. WISE interns are provided housing in a dormitory on the campus of George Washington University in the heart of Washington, D.C., and receive a stipend to assist with living and travel expenses.

For more information, please visit the ASME WISE program website at Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) or you may contact Melissa Carl, Government Relations Manager, at carlm@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.

ASME Government Relations
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Website: Advocacy & Government Relations