Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Environmental Policy Course in DC

This winter Eva Birk, Jennifer Pierce (1st year CRP masters students) and Alyson Fletcher (2nd year CRP Masters student) were selected to take the Environmental Policy Processes course in Washington D.C.

The course involved interviewing members of the federal government and associated political organizations on a specific issue.

Eva Birk explored the partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Eva explored why the Partnership's budget had been cut this year. She found that concepts like "livability" do not attract congressional support. Instead, programs need to be advocated for with the use of arguments based on economics.

Jennifer Pierce worked on Roadless Areas, a categorization of federal lands which is slightly less strict than wilderness (the most strict land use category). Jennifer found that environmental policies enacted on a nation-wide level are difficult to implement on a local level due to regional variations. Jennifer found that some solutions to this problem include:

(1) mandating minimums rather than ideals

(2) allowing for flexibility of solutions, or

(3) allowing exceptions for particular states.

Alyson Fletcher worked on policies on sustainability in urban revitalization. She specifically examined polices and programs as they pertain to brownfields, urban waters, and vacant lots/abandoned properties. She discovered that there were differing perspectives on the roles and degrees of involvement the federal government should play in urban policy. She was encouraged by a new partnership modeled off of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities that creates an inter-agency collaboration on solving urban water issues.

The ladies mentioned the following as being highlights of trip:

1. A class meeting with Deputy Secretary of the EPA, Bob Perciasepe
2. One-on-one meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, Beth Osborne
3. Meeting Cornell Alums (like Peter Rizzo).
4. Being able to speak in depth with important people about how policy is actually made-- I feel like because we are students people really opened up and gave us the real "dirt".

The course is highly recommended to anyone interested in environmental affairs in the United States- it teaches how Washington D.C. really works. The course is informative in both helping students understand how agencies shape particular subjects and in understanding how federal decisions play out in the local contexts in which planners will likely be working.

Eva Birk, Alyson Fletcher and Jennifer Pierce in front of the National Archives Gallery
Photo credit: Alyson Fletcher