In Washington, NSPE Conducts Round-the-Clock Watch
NSPE state societies in 2017 tracked numerous bills, regulations, and executive orders across the country that had the potential to help or hinder the engineering profession. At the same time, NSPE kept a close eye on the federal scene, where PE issues regularly arise but may not capture the same attention as those in the state capitals.
In the final months of 2017, NSPE was active on two federal issues that underscore the Society’s federal role: a regulation on oil and natural gas emissions and the regulation of autonomous vehicles.
EPA Rethinks Rule
At the Environmental Protection Agency, regulators were having second thoughts about a final rule, set in 2016, covering emission standards in the oil and natural gas industry. The rule included a requirement for a PE to certify the closed vent system design and capacity assessment, as well as any technical infeasibility determination relative to controlling pneumatic pumps at well sites.
The EPA stated that it considers the PE requirement an important part of the rule. The agency decided to delay the rule, however, because it said it had not analyzed the costs associated with the PE license requirement or whether the requirement would improve environmental protection.
On November 17, NSPE President Tom Roberts, P.E., F.NSPE, responded with a public comment to the EPA, stating the PE requirement should be left in place. He noted that the agency carefully considered the final 2016 rule and received ample public input. He added: “With hundreds of thousands of PEs across the country, NSPE strongly believes that the existing requirements can be met.”
NSPE urged the EPA to enforce the current requirements immediately, and if a new rule is finalized, it should retain the provisions for a PE to be in responsible charge of all engineering projects.
Guidelines Draw Concern
NSPE also played an active part in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s autonomous vehicles guidance. The new voluntary guidelines were released in September and were an update of an earlier version. The document, according to NHTSA, “paves the way for the safe deployment of advanced driver assistance technologies by providing voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritizes safety.”
Safety, however, remains one of NSPE’s chief concerns with the guidelines. On November 6, NSPE President Tom Roberts, P.E., F.NSPE, submitted a formal comment to NHTSA that reiterated the Society’s position. To ensure that public safety comes first and is not compromised by competitive pressures, NSPE recommended requiring third-party certification of autonomous vehicles and technologies by someone in the decision chain (i.e., a professional engineer) who has legal and ethical obligations to protect the public.
NSPE also recommended that NHTSA develop and set AV technology performance standards that can be monitored, evaluated, and/or certified through simulation testing to assist in the development of benchmarking criteria.
In the public comment, Roberts stated that “the risks posed by failing to adequately address public safety protections are too great to ignore. For NHTSA to achieve its mission to ‘Save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement activity,’ these proposed recommendations must be incorporated into the next version, slated for release in 2018.”
Watch for updates on these and other issues on the NSPE website and in PE magazine, NSPE newsletters, and the Society’s social media.