February 9, 2018
Capitol Update

In this issue:


PRESIDENT’S INFRASTRUCTURE PROPOSAL ENVISIONS SIGNIFICANT PRIVATE INVESTMENT, EXPEDITED ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

During his time on the campaign trail, President Trump referred to the U.S.’s weak infrastructure, commenting that at least $1 trillion was needed to get the country back on track. A year in, Congress is still seeking a path forward, but mounting Federal deficits and the challenge of how to raise money for infrastructure remain significant barriers to even a limited infrastructure package.

With infrastructure a hot button topic on Capitol Hill following the State of the Union and the recent release of a Problem Solver’s Caucus infrastructure report, draft Administration proposals have been informally circulated that suggest spending as little as $200 billion on infrastructure, a significant decrease from the campaign promise of $1 trillion. However, this $200 billion will reportedly generate $1.5 trillion in returns or additional investment from private sector sources, bringing total investment up to the President’s goal. 

Last year, a White House infrastructure fact sheet argued that at least $1 trillion in funding would be achieved through a combination of new Federal funding, incentivized non-Federal funding, and newly prioritized and expedited projects, with as little as $200 billion in Federal funding for infrastructure, much of it from current infrastructure sources rather than new spending.  A new White House proposal leaked last week shows that a large part of the Administration’s plan still depends on facilitating infrastructure construction by the private sectors, with expedited environmental reviews providing a major incentive for development. The proposal is available to view at http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/national/white-house-draft-plan-to-streamline-federal-permitting-for-infrastructure-projects/2731/

Environmental review reforms in the draft proposal include making it easier to exempt projects from needing to undergo more detailed environmental impact studies prior to commencement, and curtailing the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to halt or delay projects due to environmental impact concerns. White House officials state that the proposal is still a work in progress, with many of the provisions still up for final negotiations with lawmakers. An official explained that the draft proposal was from a “much earlier stage in the policymaking process than where we are right now and should not at all be considered as administration policy.”

For more information on the FY 2018 White House infrastructure plan, visit:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/fact_sheets/2018%20Budget
Fact%20Sheet_Infrastructure%20Initiative.pdf


NSF’S SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING INDICATORS POLICY STATEMENT HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR A STEM-CAPABLE WORKFORCE

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released its “Policy Companion Statement” to the 2018 Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators Report. The Indicators Report itself is data-driven, while the policy statement allows the agency to elaborate on the figures in a more qualitative fashion and assert its position on key issues while remaining neutral. The 2018 S&E Indicators Report highlighted that the U.S. continues to be a global leader in the Science and Technology (S&T) fields but that predominance is rapidly waning. China is placing heavy emphasis on growing its S&T capacities, leading to a long and sustainable growth not seen previously. If the current trends continue, China will surpass the U.S. in R&D expenditures by the end of the year.

So how does the U.S. remain competitive? Victor McCrary, NSB member and VP of Research and Economic Development at Morgan State University asserts that “STEM knowledge and skills are vital for our nation’s businesses to compete in today’s world, and for bringing better jobs and greater prosperity to every region of our country…Creating a strong, diverse STEM-ready workforce is essential to economic and social prosperity…” In the U.S. the number of jobs requiring STEM skills has increased by over 30 percent. Compare that to China, which saw STEM jobs increase by over 300 percent between 2000 and 2015 and the importance of STEM becomes much more blatant.

If the U.S. wants to remain competitive, the policy statement argues for continued encouragement of STEM career paths, attracting students domestically and from abroad, and utilization of the entire workforce. Women are now getting half of awarded science degrees, but they continue towards careers in the social sciences. Programs such as NSF’s INCLUDES initiative hope to change this by making STEM more accessible to all sectors and groups of society. As the policy statement surmises, “The talents of minority groups in the U.S. are perhaps our greatest untapped resource.”

The full policy statement can be viewed here:  https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/companion-brief/NSB-2018-7.pdf


EPA ADMINISTRATOR MAKES SENATE OVERSIGHT APPEARANCE

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) recently held a full committee hearing to receive testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In an opening statement from Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), Pruitt was praised for taking bold steps to protect the environment without hurting the economy, particularly in implementing the Clean Air Act and in repealing the Waters of the United States Rule.

In contrast, Ranking Member Thomas Carper (D-DE) excoriated Pruitt on his record at EPA. Carper criticized the EPA’s swift action last year to repeal the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rules, arguing the agency has not put forward any credible alternative policy. Carper similarly took issue with Administrator Pruitt’s efforts to discredit climate science at EPA, calling the effort “the height of irresponsibility,” and chastised Pruitt for taking credit for environmental progress achieved by the Obama Administration, such as recently completed Superfund clean-ups. Last year, EPA requested a 30 percent budget cut for the Superfund cleanup program. 

In testimony before the Committee, Administrator Pruitt argued that, “EPA, under my direction, has established priorities for advancing progress over the next three years in each of its core mission areas—land, air, water—as well as chemicals. The Agency will focus on speeding the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites. We will work with our state partners to more rapidly review submissions of state implementation plans for attaining air quality standards, reducing harmful contaminants that can cause or exacerbate health issues. We will work to make water cleaner and safer by helping to update our nations aging infrastructure, both for drinking water as well as wastewater systems.”

To view an archived webcast of the full hearing, visit:  https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings?ID=8E3E883C-477F-4A6A-9F1E-1DDAADBDAF32


MEMBERS OF CONGRESS VOICE THEIR SUPPORT FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY LOAN PROGRAM OFFICE

Vice Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee Joe Barton, Subcommittee on Energy Ranking Member Bobby Rush recently wrote a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership asking them to keep $100-$200 million in funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Program Office (LPO) in an FY 2018 Continuing Resolution.

The DOE LPO was created in 2005 to manage and provide loans to private sector industry to assist in bolstering innovation and “bringing new technologies to commercial deployment.” The LPO currently has $41 billion in available distributable funds. In their letter, Representatives Barton and Rush highlight some of the successful projects LPO supported in the past, including a $465 million ATVM loan to Tesla Motors to “transform a closed GM-Toyota plant in California into a full-scale manufacturing factory, creating more than 3000 full-time jobs in the process.”

From the start of the program to December 2016, the LPO disbursed over $36 billion in loans for various initiatives. In return, these projects have generated over $50 billion in investment returns, and employed 56,000 Americans. This isn’t the first time Members of Congress have received letters in support of the program. Last August, industry leaders wrote to leadership voicing their support for Energy-related LPO programs.

To read the full letter, visit:  https://rush.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rush-and-barton-send-letter-to-appropriations-committees-requesting-they


THE CHALLENGE FOR MANUFACTURING IN RURAL AMERICA: EMPLOYEE RECRUITMENT

Through a series of annual reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is examining the rural-urban economic divide from the manufacturing perspective. In reports such as Rural Manufacturing at a Glance and Rural America at a Glance, the USDA conclusively determined that Rural America relies on the manufacturing industry for sustainability far more than urban communities. Manufacturing provides one of the main sources of employment and highest earnings, forming the economic backbone of almost 20 percent of rural counties.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network also examined the differences between rural and urban manufacturing companies and found that professional growth opportunities are far easier to come by in rural communities. Despite these positive attributes, both the USDA and MEP National Network found that rural manufacturing employment figures have been declining as workers flock to cities in search of opportunity. This creates an employee recruitment challenge that wasn’t previously a concern. In addition, with the economy seeing such fluctuation over the past several years, “economic restructuring is altering job opportunities for rural areas of the country as demand for services grows.” The MEP National Network is working with these rural manufacturing companies in conjunction with their research to adapt to the changing marketplace and ensure long term success.

For further information on the MEP National Network, click here: https://www.nist.gov/mep/mep-national-network

To review the USDA Rural Manufacturing at a Glance, 2017 Edition, click here: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84758/eib-177.pdf?v=42962

To review the USDA Rural American at a Glance, 2017 Edition, click here: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/85740/eib-182.pdf?v=43054


SHANGHAI LAB BREAKING RECORDS WITH NEW LASER PULSE

Scientists at the Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility (SULF) are breaking records with the most powerful laser pulses produced yet. In 2016, the lab achieved an unprecedented 5.3 million billion watts, or petawatts (PW), of energy and hope to beat their own record by the end of this year with a 10-PW shot, which would pack more than 1000 times the power of all the world's electrical grids combined. The lab is now building an even stronger device, targeting 100 PW.

Other labs around the world have similar goals, with scientists in Romania, the Czech Republic, Russia and Japan targeting even more powerful devices. According to a study published last month by a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), notably absent from this competition are U.S. scientists and research institutions who have fallen behind in the race to build the highest powered lasers. ASME recently convened a congressional staff briefing to highlight the NAS study, titled “Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light.”

To read a recent Science Magazine feature on China’s progress in laser science, visit:  http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/01/physicists-are-planning-build-lasers-so-powerful-they-could-rip-apart-empty-space

To learn more about ASME’s Congressional Briefings, please visit: https://www.asme.org/about-asme/news/asme-news/briefing-capitol-hill-highlights-cuttingedge.

To download the NAS, “Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light” report, please visit: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24939/opportunities-in-intense-ultrafast-lasers-reaching-for-the-brightest-light


EIA ANNUAL ENERGY OUTLOOK 2018 PROJECTS U.S. AS NET ENERGY EXPORTER BY 2022

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2018 (AEO2018) this week. The report provides energy market projections under a number of difference scenarios, including low and high economic growth and oil prices, to give a comprehensive overview of the future of the energy market. These projections are modeled based on what “may happen given certain assumptions and methodologies” but are not to be viewed as official predictions.

The U.S. has been a net importer of energy since 1953, but AEO2018 hypothesizes that this is soon to change, with the U.S. due to become a net energy exporter by 2022. Depending on factors such as oil prices and natural gas production, these shift could happen even earlier, creating “a very different set of expectations than we imagined even five or ten years ago,” EIA Administrator Linda Capuano explained.

Along with these model projections, the report presents several other key findings, theorizing that an uptick in energy efficiency initiatives in the U.S. will lessen the demand for energy. The report also predicts that the “production of U.S. liquids and natural gas continues to grow through 2042 and 2050, respectively.”

While it is important to understand that these are models subject to limitation in their forecasting ability, Capuano said that the results show, “The United States energy system continues to undergo an incredible transformation.”

To view the full report, click here: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/AEO2018_FINAL_PDF.pdf

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 510
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations

Paul Fakes is the Regulatory and Government Relations Manager, Technology Policy. He covers Standards and Energy and Environment.

Samantha Fijacko is the Senior Government Relations Representative. She covers Advanced Manufacturing, Robotics and R&D.

Anne Nadler is the Government Relations Representative. She covers Bioengineering, STEM Education and R&D.