MPA-ESP Students Work on Public Policy Issues in Their Fall Workshop

MPA-ESP Students Work on Public Policy Issues in Their Fall Workshop

posted: September 13, 2007

Students in the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) program at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute at Columbia University are applying their knowledge to policy matters in their fall class, Workshop in Applied System Management II.   Beginning in the summer term, students worked on topics such as global warming, biodiversity and energy consumption from a scientific perspective.  This semester, the focus changes to examining the policy and management concerns. The teams will now focus on the examination of the actual implementation process, addressing the management problems associated with selecting and operating program changes over a one-year period.

During the summer semester, students worked in teams on a variety of topics, ranging from national ocean policy to global warming, energy to biological diversity.  Five faculty members acted as facilitators for the workshop. Kathy Callahan, EPA Deputy Regional Administrator of Region 2, worked with the National Ocean Policy Group.  Steve Cohen, the Director of the MPA-ESP program and Executive Director of the Earth Institute, advised the global warming team.  The Great Lakes Water Resources team was advised by Tanya Heikkila, Assistant Professor at SIPA and a researcher for the Earth.  Shahid Naeem, the chair of the Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology Department and the Director of Science at the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, worked with the team focused on the Convention on Biological Diversity.  Andrea Schmitz, the Director of Environment, Health, and Safety at Con Edison, worked with the team examining energy policy. 

Energy for Our Future Act

Energy consumption in the United States continues to be on the rise, with four billion megawatt hours of electricity consumed in 2005.  About 50% of this electricity comes from coal, a nonrenewable resource.  Coal also has a variety of negative environmental emissions, including carbon dioxide that leads to climate change, nitrogen oxides that leads to smog, sulfur oxides that contribute to acid rain, and mercury which is toxic.  This team examined the proposed solution to cut back on the U.S.’s reliance on coal, the Energy for Our Future Act.  This act would repeal tax incentives for fossil fuels and expand the use of renewable resources, through tax incentives and research and development grants.  Examining the benefits of solar power, this team explored how a photovoltaic cell works as well as the efficiency and return to investment with solar power.  During the fall semester, they will continue working with this bill, looking to develop a one-year implementation plan for this act.

Convention on Biological Diversity

Biological diversity has shown a strong decrease, with drivers including habitat change, climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation, and pollution.  As a response to this dangerous trend, the Convention of Biological Diversity has been developed, the first global treaty to explicitly take a comprehensive ecosystem-based approach.  It is a multi-lateral, voluntary agreement that allows each party to implement its own provisions according to guidelines.  The convention has three main objectives, which include preserving biological diversity as essential to the future of the earth and its ecosystem services, promoting sustainable use of biological resources, and ensuring the equal distribution of genetic resources.  Looking at the scientific evidence behind this convention, this team explored how biological diversity leads to ecosystem function, and functional diversity equals ecosystem function.  They noted that while decreasing loss of biological diversity is a global challenge, through international cooperation there are solutions that will work.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

With 18% of the world’s fresh surface water, the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River supports 35 million people and generates $15 billion for the economy.  This team examined the water resource compact for this region, which covers 8 US states and has a variety of goals.  It aims to improve water management, prohibit new and increased diversions, create a water resource inventory, and encourage water conservation.  The group analyzed the impact of low lake levels, which includes a decrease in shipping capacity, infrastructure needing to be replaced, how it will impact coastal wetlands and exacerbate invasive species problems, and water and air quality threats.  They concluded by addressing the pros and cons of the compact, such as though the compact would protect water, it could limit growth, and despite protecting existing users, is it necessarily fair.

Global Warming Pollution Act

Global warming refers to the general increase in average global temperatures due to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.  As a rising problem, this workshop group discussed the goal of the proposed legislation in the Global Warming Pollution Act, which aims to cut to 1/3 of 80% of 1990 levels by 2030, cut to 2/3 of 80% of 1990 levels by 2040, and cut to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.  To achieve these goals, this new bill will impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions, create a cap and trade program for carbon emission, require renewable energy portfolio, investigate carbon sequestration, and provide grants for funding for research and development.  This team examined each of these goals, as well as how the success of this bill would be measured. 

The National Oceans Act

Marine ecosystems are currently facing many threats, including chemical, nutrient, and biological pollution, overfishing, habitat damage, and unlawful land use and coastal development.  To address these problems, this act is taking an Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) approach.  This team examined what EBM is, defining it as a holistic approach that includes human elements of ecosystems, works to preserve the health of an ecosystem, has the goal of continued ecosystem service, has science which informs policy, and has cumulative impacts.  The science of EBM includes scientific integration, interdisciplinary coordination, and technological innovation.  This team specifically examined the scientific convergence in EBM through the case of Elkhorn Slough in California.  This presentation concluded with how success of the act can be measured, which includes defining success as enhanced or restored ecosystem health and continued provision of essential ecosystem services. 

To view workshop reports from previous semesters, please visit:  To learn more about the program or to visit a class, please call 212-854-3142 or email