Sept. 21, 2011

First Iscol interns work with Environmental Defense Fund

In three different cities, three rising seniors spent the summer working with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) via the new Iscol Internships for a Sustainable Future on projects concerning the ocean, pollution and chemical testing.

Each student received stipends of $3,000 to support their work at the nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The internship program, coordinated by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) and Cornell Career Services, was funded by the Iscol Family Foundation.

Lucas Ackerknecht, a natural resources major, worked as an ocean innovations intern at EDF's San Francisco office. One of his major projects was the catch share program for fishery management. Catch shares give each fisherman a quota of fish based on historical catch limits, and participants are allowed to attain the quota throughout the entire season, which provides an incentive to conserve fish and keeps prices stable. Catch shares "work beautifully," according to Ackerknecht. "They decrease the number of headaches for managers, preserve the sustainability of fish stocks, and thus preserve the livelihood of fishermen."

Samantha Bresler, a science of natural and environmental systems major, worked in New York City as a reactive nitrogen pollution management intern. She focused on nitrogen pollution from wastewater facilities in the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire. The reactive nitrogen dumped by these facilities causes the algae population to increase exponentially and then die off, depleting the water's oxygen levels. Bresler used her economics background to design a command-and-control incentive system, which she believes is the best policy for uniform nitrogen pollution removal. She plans to submit her findings to a scholarly journal.

Johanna Katz, a biology major, served in Washington, D.C., as an emerging chemical testing outreach intern. She focused on toxic chemical regulation and educating the public about chemical health hazards. "There are currently about 80,000 chemicals in the U.S., but only five of them are regulated by the EPA," she said, "and the legislation we currently use is from the 1970s and structured poorly." She worked on gaining grassroots support for a new bill, the Safe Chemicals Act, and raising awareness about health hazards of chemicals like diisocyanates and styrenes through blog postings and other outreach efforts.

Kenneth Iscol '60, a member of Cornell University Council, and Jill Iscol also sponsor Cornell's annual Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture, hosted by ACSF.

Denise Robbins '12 was a summer intern for the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.