Tough Environmental Policy Question? Bring in the MPAs


MPA students Makiko Yamazoe, left, and Melissa Kahn at the MPA final briefings presentation on April 19. Throughout the semester, MPA students have studied subjects such as environmental sciences, statistics, economics, and management, and applied what they learned to real life environmental issues for their final briefings.

Photo credit: Kristin McElroy

One hundred million personal computers were disposed of in 2004, and they are not benign -- computers contain hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment, and no policy exists to manage this e-waste. Is anyone working on this problem?

Bring in the MPAs. This semester, a group studying to get their Masters' in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy examined this problem as part of their final briefings in their Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management class. This group was one of five student groups who presented final briefings on complex policy issues to an audience of students and faculty on April 19, 2006. 

The e-waste group examined existing programs in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Japan and the European Union and surveyed the views of stakeholders in the legislation. The team reported concerns reg narding the impact on existing markets, as well as a preference for a national policy versus a patchwork of stand-alone programs.

"What was great about the workshop is that it has provided me with so many transferrable 'real world' skills, from having to synthesize relatively complex information to a comprehensive briefing, to communicating with the team and making sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion," said student project manager Christine Chase.

The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis combines the culmination of knowledge learned throughout the past year, where they studied subjects including environmental sciences, statistics, economics, and management, and apply it to real life environmental issues.

"The Workshops apply much of what our students have learned throughout the past year, where they studied subjects such as environmental sciences, ethics, statistics, economics, and management, to solving real world environmental problems," said Steven Cohen, Director of the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy. "Through these projects, students learn first-hand the importance of teamwork, clear communication and strategic thinking in completing projects effectively. Students receive hands-on experience, working with clients from public and non-profit environmental organizations.  Our program places a premium on learning by doing. Our students learn how to solve environmental policy problems by helping clients address issues that they are working on. Everyone wins — our students learn policy and management analysis and our clients receive free, high quality analytic work."

Workshop Projects

Regulating Electronic Waste in New York City – Advisor: Steve Cohen

At the briefing, team members presented their work as consultants to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), analyzing the proposed New York City Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act. The group examined existing programs in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Japan and the European Union and surveyed the views of stakeholders in the legislation. The team reported concerns regarding the impact on existing markets, as well as a preference for a national policy versus a patchwork of stand-alone programs.

Recommendations for implementation included assigning the costs of recycling to manufacturers, and allowing companies which already run their own programs, such as Xerox, to continue doing so. Companies without standing policies would have to comply with the Act. The students recommended setting target levels for the collection and recycling of hazardous materials, and reassessing targets if needed. They also identified logistical concerns which included: who will regulate compliance; educating consumers about how programs will work; the transition period; and quantifying costs and benefits.

Community Wind Project Development – Advisor: Tanya Heikkila

This group worked with the Clean Energy Group, a non-profit organization, to research the benefits and challenges of community wind projects. The students compared the profiles of states belonging to the Clean Energy States Alliance to those who did not, identified obstacles and solutions to developing community wind projects, and determined the best policies and practices for implementation. Obstacles included concerns about birds, the “Not in My Backyard” syndrome, costs of a feasibility study, access to financing, zoning regulations, and procuring turbines.

The team concluded that specific community wind policies and incentives are needed and that member funds can offer capacity building support. The group also encouraged greater information sharing.

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme – Advisor: Tanya Heikkila

Students worked with European think tank, Notre Europe, to formulate possible methods of improving the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, which seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Targeting allocation of allowances, monitoring and reporting, and verification as critical to the success of the Emissions Trading Scheme, they conducted research, surveys, and focused interviews to assess discrepancies in the system and provide recommendations.  Recommendations included a standardized system, creating clearer procedural guidelines, and harmonizing accreditation across the EU.

Workshop on Corruption and Environmental Degradation – Advisor: Sara Tjossem

This team worked with Transparency International, a non-governmental organization based in Berlin that works on measures to curb corruption in international transactions.  The students investigated the environmental costs of corruption, globally and by sector, gathered case studies to explain how corruption occurs, and provided recommendations. Researching a diverse, worldwide sampling of corruption hotspots, the group identified three sectors where corruption is most likely to occur: infrastructure, renewable resources, and non-renewable resources. According to the group’s findings, the environmental costs of this corruption include pollution and ecosystem disruption, displacement of people and species extinction, and inhibition of economic development.

The team identified 12 trends, including findings that poverty, corruption and environmental degradation are related, that countries dependent on natural resources are prone to environmental corruption, and that western consumers may provide incentives for corruption. The group recommended prioritizing preventative over reactive advocacy, adopting conservation stakeholder models, and educating the public about the costs of environmental corruption. 

Sustainable South Bronx: Greening an Industry – Advisor: Gail Suchman

Working with Sustainable South Bronx, a community group focused on implementing sustainable development and environmental justice in the Bronx, this team addressed water quality problems caused by the Hunts Point Markets. Evaluating both stormwater and wastewater, students examined the problem, researched technology options, assessed the feasibility of the options, and provided final recommendations.  With problems ranging from produce debris and high hot water usage, to lack of pollution treatment and the dangers surrounding blackwater containing pathogens, the group proposed both short term and long term solutions.  Some of the short-term recommendations included rain gardens, greenroofs, and water conservation, education and awareness, while some of the long term solutions including wetland reconstruction, a Baysaver Separation System, stormfilters, and steam or hot water chillers.

The projects began in January and are typically completed at the end of April, where students will present a formal briefing and provide a formal written report for each client.  The MPA programs at SIPA have been doing projects similar to these since 1982.