Leading the News
State Attorneys General Reiterate Opposition To Proposed Offshore Drilling Plan.
The Washington Post (2/2, Fears) reported that “as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke prepared to travel to the Carolinas to discuss offshore drilling, state attorneys general condemned the Trump administration’s plan to expand development of oil and gas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as ‘outrageous’ and ‘reckless.’” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), “one of a dozen state attorneys general on the two coasts to co-sign a letter Thursday that called on Zinke to cancel the proposal, said, ‘We intend to sue if they go forward with this, unquestionably. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to stop it.’” In the letter, Frosh was jointed by “the attorneys general of North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts...New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia.” Also reporting are AP (2/4), the Charlotte (NC) Observer (2/3, Blythe), and the Panama City (FL) News Herald (2/3).
Interior Secretary Zinke Travels To Carolinas For Weekend Meetings On Offshore Drilling. The AP (2/3) reported North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and Interior Secretary Zinke met on Saturday to discuss the Trump administration’s “plans to expand drilling for gas and oil off the state’s coast.” Cooper, who is seeking a waiver for the state under the drilling plan, confirmed that “he had a good conversation” with Zinke, but maintained “that residents need to continue to be loud and make sure their opposition is noted.” In a press conference after the meeting, Cooper said, “We told him there is no 100 percent safe method to drill for oil and gas off the coast, particularly in our area off of North Carolina that sees Nor’easters, that sees hurricanes.” Cooper added, “As we were leaving the meeting I said, ‘well, we will take the exemption now if you want to give it to us.’ And he did not quite go that far.” WRAL-TV Raleigh, NC (2/3) provided a video recording of Cooper’s press conference.
The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier (2/2, Petersen) reported South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) put forth his best arguments “for a South Carolina exemption to offshore oil and gas exploration as he met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Friday at the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia.” A spokesperson for McMaster said the two men “had a good, productive conversation over lunch” and that “[n]o final decision was made regarding the exemption.” In an earlier letter to Zinke on the offshore drilling plan, McMaster said, “Our 187-mile coastline and 2,876 miles of coastal shoreline drive a $20 billion tourism industry — one of our largest industries. ... Such reliance means that we cannot afford to accept the risk of adverse environmental impacts attendant to offshore drilling.”
Outer Banks Residents Demand Local Hearing On Offshore Drilling Plan. The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot (2/4, Hampton) reported that residents of the Outer Banks in North Carolina want public meetings to be held locally regarding the federal offshore drilling plan. The only meeting currently scheduled for North Carolina is on February 26 nearly four hours away in Raleigh, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it has no plans to hold additional meetings. The article states that Outer Banks “boasts a $1.1 billion tourism industry.” According to a study by the American Petroleum Institute, “oil and gas development in the Atlantic could bring 55,000 jobs and $4 billion to the North Carolina economy.”
Lawmakers From Washington, Oregon Send Letter To Zinke In Advance Of Washington State Hearing. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2/2, Connelly) reported a group of “[s]ixteen members of Congress from the Northwest, mainly Democrats...have fired off a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke decrying prospective offshore oil leasing by the Trump administration.” The letter comes as the Interior Department is expected to soon hold a public hearing in Washington on the proposal. Washington and Oregon’s “four U.S. Senators...signed the letter, along with 12 of 15 House members from the two states.” U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Greg Walden (R-OR) declined to sign the letter. Additional coverage was provided by Oregon Public Broadcasting (2/2, Solomon).
Education Department Reports Indicate Student Loan Programs Won’t Turn A Profit.
The Wall Street Journal (2/4, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that despite longstanding federal insistence that student loans would ultimately turn a profit, the Education Department Inspector General said last week that profitability is declining because many students are eligible to have significant portions of their debts forgiven. In addition, the department’s annual fiscal report last November indicated that the loan program will run $36 billion short of what is needed to cover outstanding debt and interest – about four times the shortfall predicted one year earlier.
In a separate article, the Wall Street Journal (2/2, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports the Education Department’s inspector general in a new report reversed years of projected profits from the US student loan program, finding instead that the program will soon become a net cost for the federal government. The report said the financial burden resulted from Americans enrolling in debt-forgiveness plans, which have caused revenues to fall short by billions of dollars.
WSJournal Backs DeVos’ Proposed Revision Of Gainful Employment Rules.
The Wall Street Journal (2/4, Subscription Publication) editorializes favorably about Education Secretary DeVos’ proposed rewriting of 2014 departmental rules on student aid access for for-profit schools. The Journal says the debt-to-earnings ratio followed in the rules does not reflect the quality of a program, and that one study showed that many public and nonprofit colleges would fail if judged by the same rule.
Education Advocates Give “Lukewarm Reception” To Trump’s Vocational Education Pitch.
The New York Times (2/2, Green, Subscription Publication) reports President Trump’s pitch in his State of the Union address on Tuesday and remarks on Thursday for more vocational schools has “received a lukewarm reception from the higher education community, including from the educators who teach in the programs he is championing.” According to the Times, “policy experts and organizations that advocate the trade programs – which for more than a decade have been recognized as career and technical education, or C.T.E. – took issue with the president’s antiquated characterization of a sector of higher education that has expanded beyond laborers who are not cut out for academia.”
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Research and Development
Radiation From Cell Phones Unlikely To Cause Cancer, Studies Suggest.
The AP (2/2, Borenstein, Neergaard) reported that “two government studies that bombarded rats and mice with cellphone radiation found a weak link to some heart tumors, but federal regulators and some scientists say don’t worry – it is safe to use your device.” The AP added that “the lead author of the research, John Bucher of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is not changing his cellphone use or advising his family to.”
The Washington Post (2/2, Cha) reported in “To Your Health” that the results “showed a higher risk of tumors, DNA or tissue damage and lower body weight in some groups of rodents, but no obvious ill effect in others and no clear implications for human health.” The Post pointed out that “the study by the National Toxicology Program is believed to be the most comprehensive assessment of the health effects of such radiation on rats and mice and involved 3,000 test animals.”
The New York Times (2/3, A9, Grady, Subscription Publication) reported that the FDA “issued a statement saying it respected the research by the toxicology program, had reviewed many other studies on cellphone safety, and had ‘not found sufficient evidence that there are adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current radio-frequency exposure limits.’”
Airbus Vahana Autonomous Aircraft Completes First Flight Test.
CNBC (2/2, Reid) reported that Airbus’s Vahana electric self-piloted aircraft successfully completed its “first full-scale flight test.” The aircraft “reportedly reached a height of 16 feet before landing safely at a site in Pendleton, Oregon” Wednesday, and a “second flight took place Thursday.” Vahana Project Executive Zach Lovering said in a statement, “In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight.” Although Vahana is envisioned as an air taxi, Airbus “said the VTOL could...also perform as a cargo delivery platform, ambulance, search and rescue device or taxi.”
Column: Autonomous Vehicles Can Improve, Not Eliminate Design.
In a column for the Detroit Free Press (2/4, Phelan), Mark Phelan states that as the North American International Auto hosted the “most powerful Chevrolet Corvette ever” and as Ford has promised “to deliver an all-electric sports car” many fear that vehicle design will be eliminated with the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology. Phelan does not share that fear and states autonomy is compatible with great and exciting designs. Phelan cites to airplanes to argue that “The idea that autonomous cars will be windowless boxes with no more controls than an elevator just doesn’t stack up” since many airplanes are equipped with full autopilot yet still have windows and other human operator equipment.
NASA Conducts Second 2018 SLS Engine Test.
The Daily Mail (2/2, Borkhataria, O'Neill) reported that NASA tested engines aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) “for the second time this year.” Following the test, NASA “released a statement saying that the test finalized the green run testing for the four new RS-25 engine flight controllers.” Following the first test, which was conducted two weeks ago, a 3D printed “shock absorber...called a pogo accumulator assembly” was installed on the SLS. During 2018, NASA “engineers plan to add additional 3D printed parts to the RS-25 engine to reduce waste and costs associated with the SLS.” NASA is testing “all RS-25 engines and flight controllers for SLS mission at Stennis Space Center.” The RS-25 engines for initial SLS flights “will be former space shuttle main engines, modified to provide the initial power needed by the larger SLS rocket.” According to “NASA, a key part of that modification is the new flight controller, which works as the RS-25 ‘brain,’ helping the engine communicate with the SLS rocket and providing precision control of engine operation and internal health diagnostics.”
NASA, SAIC Develop New Fournier FTS Data Processing Method.
The Tech Briefs (2/1) reported NASA’s Langley Research Center and SAIC have “developed a method of processing data from Fourier transform spectroscopy (FTS) measurements” that “improves upon existing methods” and is “simpler, more accurate, faster, and less expensive” than previous methods. Langley’s method “digitizes the laser signal in a separate channel along with spectra data,” and then “demodulates the laser signal with a synthetic quadrature phase detector combined with phase tracking to derive the proper slide position for each data point.” This method “only requires inexpensive 24-bit audio digitizers” and does not “require tuning, and high-resolution data can be obtained at any wavelength.” NASA is also “actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology.”
Apple May Exclusively Source Next-Gen iPhone Chips From Intel.
Forbes (2/4, Kelly) reports KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple will exclusively sources its iPhone chips from Intel and drop Qualcomm-made processors completely. While Apple has used both Intel and Qualcomm chips for its last two generations of iPhones, performance tests have consistently revealed that Qualcomm-based iPhones are faster, but this isn’t Kuo’s biggest concern. Kuo “also believes Qualcomm has a research and development lead which will mean it has 5G chipsets ready before Intel.” Forbes says Apple would be at a significant disadvantage if its Qualcomm-based rivals were able to release several generations of 5G phones “while iPhones were stuck with overcrowded 4G bands.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Study Shows Fracking And Earthquakes In Oklahoma Strongly Linked.
Business Insider (2/2, Brodwin) reported that the US Geological Survey has forecast “the chance of having Modified Mercalli Intensity VI or greater (damaging earthquake shaking) is 5–12% per year in north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas,” which is “similar to the chance of damage caused by natural earthquakes at sites in parts of California.” The USGS’s earthquake risk forecast follows a study that was recently published in the journal Science that found the depth of wastewater injection wells coincides with an earthquake’s strength. University of Southampton associate professor of earth science Thomas Gernon, one of the study’s researchers, said that “reducing the depth of injections could significantly reduce the likelihood of larger, damaging earthquakes.”
3.1 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes South-Central Oklahoma. The AP (2/4) reports that on Sunday, the US Geological Survey detected a 3.1 magnitude earthquake at 3:39 am in south-central Oklahoma at a depth of roughly three miles. No damages or injuries have been reported from the earthquake. Some scientists have linked wastewater injection wells to the “thousands of earthquakes” that “have been recorded in Oklahoma in recent years.” Underground injection wells have also been linked to earthquakes in Texas, Kansas, and other states.
CARB Chair: States Will Defend Their Right To Set Vehicle Emissions Standards.
Bloomberg News (2/2, Chediak, Hull, Lippert) reports California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said at an event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Palo Alto, California on Friday that if the Administration decides the federal government alone has the right to regulate vehicle emissions and fuel-economy standards, “there would be a war with many states lining up with California” in support of states’ rights. Nichols’ comments come as California and Washington prepare to disagree over upcoming EPA fuel-economy standards for vehicles made between 2022 and 2025. CARB wants to stick to the more stringent standards finalized under the Obama Administration, but NHTSA and EPA could propose looser rules in the coming months.
Op-Ed: Department Of Energy “Lost Its Way” On Coal, Technology Development.
Retired Westinghouse Energy executive Louis Salvador writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2/4) that the Department of Energy should develop and commercialize new energy technologies instead of sticking to research and trying to “bring back coal.” Regarding commercialization of technologies, Salvador says, “Utilities will not accept the high cost of commercializing new technologies without sustained help from the DOE until the technologies are economical on their own.” Salvador also asserts that the coal industry is declining due to market forces rather than regulation, “The reason for coal’s fall from grace is not aggressive regulation or a “war on coal” but market forces: the emergence of cheap natural gas and solar and wind technologies.”
California Prepared To Defend Its Fuel Economy, Emissions Standards.
Bloomberg News (2/2, Chediak, Hull, Lippert) reported the Trump Administration may try to revoke California’s right under the 1970 Clean Air Act to create its own fuel economy and emissions rules, with the state’s Air Resources Board preparing to challenge the White House on the issue. US regulations are currently in line with California’s as part of former President Obama’s deal to raise the average fuel economy of vehicles, but the Trump Administration may soften federal regulations. California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols said, “We are defending our policies, values and way of life, but we are not looking to aggressively pick fights with this administration.”
Court Ruling Could Shut Down Natural Gas Pipelines.
The Palm Beach (FL) Post (2/2, Salisbury) reported that on Friday, Florida Southeast Connection, Sabal Trail and Transcontinental “asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to either expedite an environmental review of the impact of emissions from the power plants supplied by the pipelines and reissue the required certificates or issue temporary emergency permits.” If FERC does not grant the request, the pipelines will have to halt operations on Wednesday. The natural gas pipeline companies said that a service interruption could increase the costs paid by consumers. Both the “Florida Southeast Connection and Sabal Trail” pipelines serve “Florida Power & Light’s power plants.”
BLM Considers Allowing More Wind, Solar Projects On Federal Lands.
Reuters (2/2, Groom) reported that the Bureau of Land Management said in a statement on Thursday that “it would consider amending” a California desert plan that had set aside areas for renewable energy development, “as part of a broader federal effort to unwind regulations that impede energy development.” BLM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Katharine MacGregor said, “We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables.” The move “drew praise from the wind and solar industries but criticism from California officials and environmental groups.”
Oklahoma City Schools Awarded STEM Education Grants.
The Edmond (OK) Sun (2/4) reports Devon Energy awarded Science Giants grants to three Oklahoma City schools to “support of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.” West Field Elementary received a $25,000 grant “to create two Nature Explore outdoor classrooms for grades K-2,” each of which “will have a sand and water center, a building area, a nature art center and tools such as magnifying glasses and tape measures.” Deer Creek Independent received a $15,000 grant “to develop the school’s engineering and robotics programs for fourth- through sixth-grades.” Crooked Oak High School received a $10,000 grant “to purchase digital microscopes, probes and graphing calculators” that will allow “science teachers to incorporate more advanced measurement techniques into their lessons while letting students view real-time data in a variety of formats.” The Sun notes that since 2010, the “Devon Science Giants program has awarded more than $875,000 in grants to U.S. schools.”
Illinois Girls Compete In Qualifying Mathcounts Competition.
On its website, WQRF-TV Rockford, IL (2/4) reports eight Rockford, Illinois schools competed Saturday “for a chance to advance to state in the Mathcounts competition,” a tournament that “specifically looks to inspire middle schoolers to pursue math later in life.” The National Science Foundation found “women make up half of the total college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering jobs.” Math may be “one of the fields in the acronym ‘STEM’ where there is a shortage of females,” but the “high volume of female competitors” at Saturday’s event “made coaches excited about the future in STEM.” Civil engineer Lauren Downing, who volunteered at the event, said “she sees first hand the lack of girls involved in the STEM field” and “believes that need can be fixed by having good female role models to inspire the younger generations.”
Mississippi State DOE Launches “Ambitious” Computer Science Education Program.
The Hattiesburg (MS) American (2/3) reported the Mississippi Department of Education partnered with Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit in an initiative aimed at granting all Mississippi students exposure to computer science by 2024 – “an ambitious plan in a state where 40 percent of residents lack access to broadband services, according to the Federal Communications Commission.” With only four Mississippi students sitting for the 2016 Advanced Placement Computer Science exam, state education officials “say Mississippi can’t afford to wait.” At a meeting last month, the state Board of Education “discussed a timeline to implement a computer science framework in all school districts by the 2022 academic year, just four years away.” The American notes almost 40 percent of school districts are currently participating in a state computer science pilot program. The pilot program will end in 2019, after which state education officials will review the results “and consider any needed changes.”
Microsoft To Expand TEALS Program In North Dakota.
The Grand Forks (ND) Herald (2/4) reports North Dakota state School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler announced the state Department of Public Instruction has expanded a partnership with the Microsoft Corporation to introduce into public schools Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, through which “a volunteer computer science professional from Microsoft or another industry partner teams up with a classroom instructor to team-teach computer science courses.” Currently, only one North Dakota high school has a TEALS program. For the expanded partnership, Microsoft is “hiring a full-time, North Dakota-based coordinator, volunteering some of its employees and expert instructors as classroom teachers and exploring further investment to expand this program for high school students, Baesler said.” Baesler is now “gauging interest from superintendents and high schools in using a unique program for computer science instruction, she said in a news release.”
Mississippi Community Robotics Team Profiled.
The AP (2/4, O'Connor) profiles 456 Siege Robotics, a team of 25 Mississippi high school students who “spend hours a day in a lab at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center designing, building and programming the robot.” The students have six weeks to build and program their robot from the ground up, after which they “will compete in First Robotics tournaments in Orlando and New Orleans with the hopes of qualifying for the world championships in Houston.” The team was launched at Warren Central in 1999, and it “became a community team in 2011.” During that time, 456 Siege Robotics “won more than 30 awards at competitions,” and it is “one of about 50 teams to have won each of the five major engineering awards.” Students on 456 Siege Robotics rely “on sponsors and donations as the robot costs about $20,000 to build and when entry fees and travel are factored in, the season can cost upwards of $50,000.”
All-Female Cybersecurity Competition To Be Held In February.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (2/4, Eaton) reports, “Dora Schriro, Connecticut’s public safety commissioner, knows what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated world of criminal justice, so she jumped at the chance to work with organizers of a national competition being held this month to find and attract young women to the field of cybersecurity.” The “Girls Go Cyberstart” program is run by the SANS Institute and “is open to high school-age girls in 18 states and American Samoa.” SANS research director Alan Paller is quoted saying, “There are big barriers to women getting into this field, and we want to give them an on-ramp that is their own.”