State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Workshop Is Practical Training for Environmental Students

Students in the Master of Public Administration program in Environmental Science and Policy conduct research and analysis in a Capstone Workshop for each of the three semesters they spend in the program. The program’s curriculum, designed to train students to become sophisticated public managers and policymakers, was developed by the Earth Institute and the School of International and Public Affairs. The workshop course enriches students’ understanding of sustainability initiatives while providing them with professional training. This practical learning experience is one of the many ways in which Columbia University students are prepared for professional experience.

With an emphasis on management training, the workshops are designed around a set of proposed state, federal or local environmental laws or international agreements. The summer semester workshop allows students to use their scientific knowledge, requiring written reports to convey scientific aspects of the project to non-scientists. During the fall semester, the projects focus on the operational design of the program and the management issues central to program implementation. In the spring, students work with real-world clients to gain experience tackling tough environmental problems.

Faculty advisers work with individual groups throughout the summer and fall semesters. The broad professional experience of this expert faculty gives students a sense of the challenges they will face as administrators and policy analysts and the understanding necessary to overcome these challenges.

“The workshop gives us the ability to delve into a topic and learn to dissect the information for mass consumption,” said Larissa Johnson, one of the 62 students currently enrolled in the program. “It exemplifies the importance of being able to present effectively on scientific material to a general audience.”

The faculty includes Professor Kathy Callahan, associate director of the Columbia Water Center, who is a former deputy regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2; Matt Palmer, a full-time member of the faculty and an adviser to organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NYC Parks, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and non-governmental organizations on conservation, restoration and ecological management; Irene Nielson, a 2005 graduate of the MPA Environmental Science and Policy program who serves as innovations coordinator for the EPA Region 2; Lloyd Kass, director of operations for the New York office of Willdan Energy Solutions and adjunct assistant professor of International and Public Affairs at SIPA; and Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and professor in the practice of public affairs at Columbia.

“The faculty advisors are very knowledgeable and have a lot of professional experience in their respective policy areas, offering valuable insight and advice all along,” said Alicia Ahn, who is working with Kass on The Coastal Jobs Creation Act of 2011.

Current workshop projects are detailed below. The students will present their final findings at a formal briefing on Nov. 30. If you are interested in attending the briefings, please contact Sarah Tweedie at

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

Faculty Adviser: Lloyd Kass

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.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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