By Alexandra Branscombe
April 9, 2014
Caption : Four University of Washington graduate students spent the last year and half writing new environmental policies for the Washington state legislature to satisfy a law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.     

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Spending years writing new environmental legislation does not mean it will become law, a lesson some student policy writers learned the hard way.

Four University of Washington (UW) graduate students spent the last year and half writing new environmental policies for the Washington state legislature to satisfy a law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Andrea Fassbender, Ashley Maloney, Seth Bushinsky, and Emily Newsom were all working toward passing new legislation that would fulfill a 2008 law that requires Washington state to reduce greenhouse gas emission to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The four provided support for State Senator Kevin Ranker (D) through a collaboration with UW’s Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program on Climate Change.

Ranker had joined the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, a bipartisan working group, to come up with a solution. To add scientific input, Ranker was connected to the graduate students who were then put to work helping analyze documents, performed research, and attended public forums to move environmental legislation forward.

Though the four members were science students, they quickly found themselves deep into researching carbon-tax legislation and cap-and-trade programs outside of their trained scientific expertise. They also attended the monthly working group meetings and public forums around the state as they pulled together information for writing a satisfactory policy.

Instead of passing a bipartisan report, however, both Democratic and Republican state leaders submitted their own policies to meet the emissions goals.

While the legislation that the students worked on did not pass as intended, they are still blazing a trail for other young scientists who want to be more involved with policy. The group has already presented their experience at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Hawaii, having documented how their scientific input was employed and the results of their engagement.

Their next step is to submit a scientific paper on this experience, in hopes to help connect future collaborations between environmental scientists and policy makers.

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