Education News

MPA ESP Students Present Summer Final Briefing Projects

On Wednesday, August 17, 2011, students from the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy presented their final briefings for the summer semester of the Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management. Their presentations were the culmination of semester-long projects focused on the scientific foundations for selected environmental management problems.

The workshop course is a cornerstone of the program, enriching students' understanding of sustainability initiatives while providing them with professional training.  With an emphasis on management training, the workshops are designed around a set of proposed but not yet enacted state, federal, or local environmental laws or international agreements. Each semester, teams of students focus on a different aspect of these environmental policies. The summer semester workshop allows students to utilize their scientific knowledge, requiring written reports to convey scientific aspects of the project to non-scientists. The focus of the Workshop in the summer semester is to develop skills for managing the work of scientists and translating scientific information to policy makers.

Faculty advisers work with individual groups throughout the summer and fall semesters. The broad-ranging professional experience of the members of this expert faculty gives students a sense of the challenges that they will face as future administrators and policy analysts and the understanding necessary to overcome these challenges. The faculty includes Professor Kathy Callahan, associate director of the Columbia Water Center, who is a former deputy regional administrator for EPA Region 2; Matt Palmer, a full-time member of the faculty, and an adviser to organizations like the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NYC Parks, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and NGOs on conservation, restoration and ecological management issues; Irene Nielson, a 2005 graduate of the MPA Environmental Science and Policy program who serves as innovations coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency Region 2; Howard Apsan, the director of environmental health and safety at City University of New York (CUNY); and Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and professor in the practice of public affairs at Columbia.

The summer semester projects focus on issues ranging from coastal development to waste-to-energy to hydraulic fracturing. The presentations provided an overview of each legislation or treaty—their major goals and provisions—and provided details on the history and scientific dimensions of the environmental problems being addressed. Descriptions of the workshop briefings and topics are below.

H.R. 594: The Coastal Jobs Creation Act of 2011

Faculty Adviser: Howard Apsan
The Coastal Jobs Creation Act of 2011 is a bill designed to promote sustainable coastal development, creating coastal jobs by supporting sustainable fisheries and fishing communities and by revitalizing waterfronts. The goal of this act is to create a Coastal Jobs Creation Grant Program, implemented by the Secretary of Commerce. The program will include initiatives for research of economic and social data related to the management of recreational and commercial fisheries. Efforts will also focus on establishing and implementing state recreational fishing registry programs, as well as training and deploying observers authorized under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The proposed program will also seek to preserve coastal resources and restore waterfronts and ports. This program provides more opportunities for research into improvements in coastal observation technologies, as well as collection of fishery and marine mammal stock assessments data.

H.R 66: Waste-To-Energy Technology Act of 2011

Faculty Adviser: Irene Nielson
The Waste-To-Energy Technology Act addresses both the provision of sewage and solid waste management and the demand for energy generation. The bill will allow 30% tax credits for investment in waste-to-energy facilities, and will also certify landfills and waste water treatment facilities as qualified waste-to-energy facilities. The act plans to establish a certification program that focuses on balancing economic and environmental goals. Facilities will be assessed for certification based on criteria such as commercial viability of projects, net impact in avoiding or reducing air pollutants, cost of generated and stored energy, and possible risks posed to environmental and human health.  This bill will create new tax credits for qualifying waste-to-energy investments that produce affordable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting air quality and human health.

Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, or The FRAC Act

Faculty Adviser: Kathleen Callahan
The FRAC Act focuses on the drinking water resources, public health, and environmental concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing wells. Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is a process that involves pumping fluids into underground shale formations in order to extract oil and natural gas from the rock pores. This act seeks to repeal the exemption of hydrofracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act in order to provide a safer environment for the areas surrounding hydrofracking wells. The act will require full disclosure of all chemical constituents to be injected into the ground for the purpose of hydrofracking. This will keep the public well-informed, and provide for better treatment in the case of a medical emergency.

S 4178. New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011

Faculty Advisor: Steve Cohen
The New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011 is dedicated to funding solar energy efforts in New York. Designed to enable the rapid and sustainable development of a robust solar power industry within New York State, the act promotes the creation of a diverse and competitive solar energy market by encouraging energy providers to invest in solar energy resources. The act will require New York energy providers to purchase solar renewable energy credits from solar panel owners. With a steadily rising percentage of credits that must be purchased, the act strives to increase the use of renewable energy in the state. Among the many goals of the act are the creation of jobs, reduction of long-term costs of energy generation, increased reliability of the state’s grid, and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants.

H.R. 965: Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act

Faculty Adviser: Matthew Palmer
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act focuses on concerns about the overuse of antibiotic drugs in agriculture and associated threats to human health. Heavy use of antibiotics in industrial agricultural facilities can lead to the development of an antibiotic-resistant pathogen. This resistance poses a threat to the health of both humans and animals. This act will require a thorough review of agricultural antibiotic use by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Under this act, any new drug use must be shown to be harmless to human health, and approval of existing uses will be withdrawn until all safety standards are met. This act plans to protect not just the American public, but also recipients of exported American meat.