An Intern's Experience at Public Citizen

Amelia_PC Gala.med
Andrew Gibson, Amanda Whiting and Even Ottenfeld

By: Amelia Whiting

Hi, Amelia Whiting. Nice to meet you!

                (Hi, I am so and so. What do you do?)

I am an intern at Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program. I assisted with the analysis of consumer energy impacts under the Clean Power Plan, researched a variety of environmental and energy issues, and attended hearings on Capitol Hill. What about you?

                (That is so cool/interesting.)

Many meetings and introductions I experienced this summer followed the theme from above. My internship was “cool” and “interesting” because it granted me the opportunity to apply principles from the classroom – framing and economic theories – and to expand my knowledge of different environmental and energy issues – especially on nuclear energy.

This summer, I assisted with Public Citizen’s state-specific reports regarding electricity bill savings for consumers under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. This work emphasized the close link between environmental policy and economics. I found that to truly account for all the costs and benefits of a policy, it is important to look at the long-term impacts of a policy or rule.

For me, the Clean Power Plan is a step in the right direction. Climate change is a complex problem that impacts people around the country and the world differently, and finding a solution to agree on can be difficult. Allowing states to choose how the best ways to implement reductions in emissions and energy uses is necessary as each state has unique constraints that will impact how the reductions are made. Actions made to mitigate the impacts of climate change must include both bottom-up and top-down approaches. It is essential that individuals, companies and the government work toward making changes to leave a healthy planet for people decades from now and future generations – not to mention my generation, which is inheriting this crisis.

While working on the Clean Power Plan helped to combine knowledge across environmental, economic and political disciplines, the research and reading I did taught me about public opinions, facts and current debates around environmental issues. I began each morning by reading news blurbs about energy and the environment. The short bits of news provided me with an awareness of the varying environmental and energy issues that are affecting states, the country and the world. Besides getting a brief overview of the many distinct issues, I often read full articles on the blurbs that I found most interesting. Through these readings, I learned in detail about topics such as the growth in the use of community solar power and the continuing debate over the Clean Power Plan. I enjoyed starting my day this way as I always learned something new every day.

In addition to the research, attending hearings was an informative experience. Listening to the testimony of the witnesses showed the varying perspectives of Congress and the public. It reaffirmed how important framing can be to the legislative process since how people/societies perceive and communicate their reality can be vastly different among political ideologies and regions. Framing explains why congressional members from West Virginia are concerned about the impacts of regulations on coal mining and why Californians are concerned about the drought. I found that although some of the topics from class were relevant, the discussions in class did not fully encapsulate what happens in congressional hearings.

My time at Public Citizen has allowed me to bridge the gap from classroom to workplace. I was able to apply concepts I learned in the classroom – framing and economic concepts – to my work. I also expanded my understanding of environmental issues. The learning and growth did not stop at the end of the work day or during lunch; the conversations I shared with other interns and staff – ranging from why there is an ever-growing population of presidential candidates to the Iran nuclear deal – pushed me to better understand the differing viewpoints on political issues in our country and how attempting to assimilate the ideas will allow for effective solutions to these problems.