Sierra Club Policy Analyst Intern

This summer, I interned at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club in Raleigh as a policy analyst. The internship was a great opportunity and helped me improve my public policy skills- including networking, research and writing. I worked on a variety of projects ranging on topics from Solar Energy to Coal Ash to Hydraulic Fracturing.

My internship occurred while the North Carolina General Assembly was in its short session. The main purpose of this short session was to pass a budget, but legislators snuck other bills in the mix to be considered.

During my internship, the North Carolina General Assembly lifted the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”. I followed the bill throughout the lengthy and heated debates, from the committee stages to the House and Senate Floor. I also tracked the Coal Ash Bill, which was one of the bills the General Assembly pushed for. You may remember in February that there was a huge coal ash spill in North Carolina at the Dan River from one of Duke Energy’s coal ash plants. Since then, legislators and the Governor have been working on getting a coal ash bill in place. The bill went through a heated debate on the Senate and House floor. The House added over 20 amendments and the debate lasted a total of about 6 hours. At the Sierra Club, we worked to get the strongest bill that we could in order to protect our state.

One of the things I liked about my internship at the Sierra Club was that my day was never predictable. Some days I worked in the office--tracking bills, doing research and preparing factsheets on bills--but other days, I was right in the thick of the action- attending Senate and House sessions or committee meetings and lobbying legislators. It was really exciting to see the factsheets and summaries on bills that I have worked on going to legislators.

I was amazed at how fast everything moved in the General Assembly. Bills are filed, sent to committee and then before you know it, on the floor of the House and Senate undergoing first, second and third readings. Once the Senate and House pass the bill on the third reading and concur, it goes to the governor for approval and then becomes law. The short session still was going on at the close of my internship.

One of my big projects throughout the summer was to create a legislative summary of the session. This is a summary of all the bills we watched throughout the session, which included a highlight of the bill, who it was sponsored by, what the bill does, our position on it and the story behind it. The legislative summary goes out to Sierra Club members so they can see what we worked on throughout the session.

While I spent a lot of time in the legislature, I also attended an event the Sierra Club put on in Raleigh to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the NC wilderness Act–landmark legislation. At the event, I was able to meet our volunteers and many people involved in the Sierra Club. I also gave a public comment, which will become public record, on behalf of the Sierra Club at the Triennial Review Hearing to DENR and a member of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to add methylmercury to the Water Quality Standards.

On one of my last days with the Sierra Club, I went kayaking on Jordan Lake to see the Solar Bee’s put in the lake. Solar Bees are giant water mixers that are supposed to help stop certain types of algae from blooming. Legislators delayed the Jordan Lake Rules, which was a nutrient management plan that would reduce the amount of pollution going into the lake, in order to launch the controversial Solar Bee pilot program. 36 Solar Bee’s will be placed in Jordan Lake as part of a pilot program lasting 2 years.

I was impressed by the work of the Sierra Club. The internship was very rewarding and I strengthened many skills that I look forward to using in the future. I learned a lot from my experience and have a new appreciation for state policy.

Brianna Van Stekelenburg, Duke Masters of Public Policy Candidate