Science Policy

Gina: Coal Region Raised Environmental Policy Professional

I was proudly born and raised in Pottsville, PA, in the Coal Region of Pennsylvania and home of Yuengling beer. I lived in Pottsville until I moved away to college. While I lived there and when I visit, I take full advantage of what the area has to offer. Pottsville is a place of small businesses, school spirit, outdoor recreation, and sustained life-long friendships. I will always care about those who reside in Pottsville regardless if my current address ends with zip code 17901 or not.

With my Pottsville school district education, I set out to become a scientist. In 2013 I became a Meteorologist. In 2016, I obtained a Master’s in Atmospheric Science. In 2018, I received my Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Maryland. While people from home know I study weather, one thing that people may not necessarily know is that my focus of study is not just weather, but on air pollutants and their transport by the weather (see Air Quality tab for more info). Breathing CLEAN AIR–air that will not harm our health, make us sick, or shorten our lives–is a human right.  Unfortunately, there have been many misconceptions on what clean air, as well as what lowering CO2 emissions would entail for our country, and for the rest of the world.  There are many market-based solutions in the energy sector, with more energy options with renewables becoming less costly and more accessible than ever before. We must also develop and invest in technology for carbon capture and storage at the remaining coal facilities, and sell and promote this technology world-wide for countries that will continue to use coal.  The time to act on climate is now, without any further delay.  While curbing CO2 increases, and therefore maintaining global temperature warming from pre-industrial times to below 2 degrees C as outlined by the most recent IPCC report, bold solutions must be administered. However, we must remember that while in this current political climate–with many politicians who are in the current senate majority and in the current administration who are backed by the fossil fuel industry–even bite-sized solutions are better than nothing.  Many people believe that small steps are putting a bandaid on the situation and not solving anything. But to be frank,  solutions that act like a tourniquet can very well save us in the mean time until surgery could be performed on the issue.  We need to start somewhere.  We can’t bleed out while holding out for the perfect solution.

“Fossil fuel combustion accounts for 77% of the total U.S. GHG emissions (using the 100-year global warming potential), with agriculture, industrial processes, and methane from fossil fuel extraction and processing as well as waste accounting for the remainder” — the Fourth National Climate Assessment, 2018

The first E: Economics

The economy, stupid. – Bill Clinton 

The cost-benefit of so many earth friendly policies end up being a positive for the economy. Yet somehow, we let big businesses who compete with earth-friendly practices mislead the public and hold puppet strings on many members of Congress. The policies that  that drive clean air correspond to the rise in natural gas production and improvements in renewable energy technology. Coal is not as efficient for power production, therefore, it is more expensive to operate a coal-fired plant than a natural gas run plant. Demand is down for coal due to competition with natural gas and renewables. Wind power is becoming less expensive than coal. Coal-fired plants require scrubbing to comply with air quality standards, therefore, costs extra $$$. An increase in automation lessens the demand for human employment. These realities among others are reasons why the once bustling coal city is declining in jobs and growth.

This is not just in Pottsville PA, but all over the country where coal and factory jobs had once thrived. These are the facts of the times–technology is advancing and not solely reliant on the solid masses preserved from the dinosaur age. This means staying on top of job growth and economic development in the energy sector (once again, see my Air Quality tab for more info on this) and being creative on how to find new employment and advancing technology in these types of employment areas. I truly believe that Pottsville, like many other areas of the U.S., have so many untapped resources for job creation (for example, tourism revolved around the Yuengling brewery and unused coal mines). We need the right leadership and critical thinkers who are willing to take risks and think outside the box.  The cost of doing nothing outweighs the costs associated with modifying our energy sector.

“Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.” — The Fourth National Climate Assessment, 2018

The second E: Environment: Of course I care about the environment. I feel as though it is my civic duty as an inhabitant on this planet to not trash it, or, at least not make it any worse than the condition it was handed to me. As a person who enjoys doing fixer upper projects around the house, I cannot say I am a person who settles for living in a mess just because it was the condition it was handed to me in. I try my best to clean it, repair it, and make more sustainable and cost-effective upgrades with updates to the technology. The same goes for the environment that I live in. As a scientist, I feel as if it is my duty to help inform polluters when they are creating living conditions unsafe for humans, animals, and crops. There is evidence-backed sound-science that shows toxins and chemicals released to the air from coal-fired power plants create air that is unsafe for breathing and are detrimental to crops. That statement does not even include the adverse health effects from mining the coal alone. So, while I care that people are able to make a comfortable living, I also care about the people whose lives are adversely affected by this form of energy production.  The environmental justice movement–including justice in communities of color–must continue to gain momentum and seek policy solutions two protect those who have been disproportionately burdened by the negative effects of human activity for far too long.  And these policies should extend to rural communities and areas where children are exposed to neurotoxins through coal ash and steel manufacturing, and lead through homes. The injustices we see in this country are not just an urban thing or a rural thing–its a paycheck to paycheck, lack of privilege, and unheard voices thing. It’s the government picking and choosing who gets to breathe clean air and drink clean water based on economic interests and who can get the most advocacy funding. These injustices are real, and they must be addressed. 

Concerns about Climate Change and National Security: 

When the ability of the women and men who serve this country to get to work on base, to perform missions domestically or internationally, and to use essential equipment are all compromised by extreme weather due to climate change, we have a national security threat. When mission-critical aircraft such as the F-22 are damaged because of inadequate infrastructure in a changing climate in the case of Hurricane Michael at Tyndall AF Base in the past year, we have a national security problem. The cost of extreme weather disasters are being passed on to the tax payer–to repair instead make resilient–rebuild instead of revise.  This message is no longer just coming from scientists or “left-leaning liberals”–it is coming from those on the ground who are witnessing these changes first hand; from those who are on the frontlines of international destabilization and conflict driven by fights over increasingly more limited resources.

In January 2019, the United States Department of Defense came out with a report detailing the effects of a changing climate on our national security.

“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to DoD missions, operational plans, and installations…”

The report goes on to say:

“To achieve these goals, DoD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of a variety of threats and conditions, including those from weather and natural events. To that end, DoD factors in the effects of the environment into its mission planning and execution to build resilience.” 

https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/29/2002084200/-1/-1/1/CLI MATE-CHANGE-REPORT-2019.PDF

We need policies to advance technology in the energy sector–in renewables and clean energy–and to promote these efforts through job training, grants,  vocational-technical schooling, and community college education. We need policies to regain momentum in the energy sector through renewables in communities built around coal, because nobody should be limited by their geography and everyone deserves a piece of that American pie.  We need to create resilient bases, communities around the bases, and bases around the globe.  We need to fund and develop infrastructure projects that will acknowledge these realities and stop running from them. What we do NOT need is lying and spewing of misguided hope to rural communities looking for some cheap votes.

We need to work together to create a clear vision on where these jobs and the society around it can go without false economic hope. 

Some policy experiences:

In addition to serving as a AIP/AAAS Congressional Science Fellow for 2018-2019, attending the AMS Policy Colloquium, as well as several AMS Washington Forum meetings, it all began with an internship at OSTP in Fall 2016.

I was able to see first-hand some of the most creative and brilliant minds at work right in front of me. I left that experience truly inspired and driven to continue work in science policy.

Staff photo of the Math and Movie White House Event – Screening of “The Man Who Knew Infinity”. My staffing position: Jeremy Iron’s “dog handler”.
Myself and the phenomenal group of Fall 2016 OSTP interns after we watched former President Obama walk out and take off in Marine One.
Obama White House staff wearing purple in support of LGBTQ for Spirit Day (I’m in there somewhere..)