Emily Grumbling, Ph.D.

ACS Congressional Fellow, 2011-2012


Emily Grumbling earned her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Arizona in 2010. Her doctoral research investigated gas-phase photoelectron imaging of negative ions. In addition to her research, Emily has eight years of experience tutoring and teaching science to undergraduates. Her policy interests include energy, the environment, science education, and diplomacy. Emily will work for Rep. Diane DeGette (D-CO) on energy issues during her ACS congressional fellowship.

Year-End Fellowship Report

As my Fellowship year draws to a close, I am surprised by how quickly the time has passed and amazed at how full it has been. It has been an honor and a privilege to work in the Office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado, Chief Deputy Whip and ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I have both learned inner workings of the U.S. House of Representatives and provided my own perspective and scientific expertise on specific policy issues. I worked closely with the Congresswoman’s energy and environment staffer, focusing primarily on toxic chemicals policy and hydraulic fracturing. However, I also had the opportunity to dabble in issues such as food safety, drug policy, nanotechnology, American Indian affairs, and LGBT equality.

Every day was different, and I took on a variety of roles. I researched and evaluated legislation both for cosponsorship and voting recommendations. I helped with general office functions by answering constituent mail, occasionally answering phones and writing thank-you notes. I attended briefings and took meetings with lobbyists, agency representatives and constituents. I wrote letters and statements for the Congresswoman, reviewed Committee transcripts for the record, prepared briefing materials and occasionally helped staff the Congresswoman at Committee hearings or markups.

The year had many highlights. In particular, I composed the Congresswoman’s questions for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson at the EPA budget hearing in February, focusing on the ongoing interagency study of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. I also composed her floor statement for the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, H.R. 5892, a rare bipartisan bill to remove regulatory barriers for small hydroelectric power projects. I also coordinated her letter, signed by 20 U.S. Representatives, to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting release of an important EPA rule that it has held for review for over 200 days. The rule would prevent companies from claiming the identities of chemicals in health and safety studies submitted to EPA as confidential business information, unless expressly permitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and is supported by environmental and public health advocates.

I have also had a front-row seat to landmark and historical events, such as the administration’s decision to require insurance companies to cover birth control (and the surrounding debate), the Supreme Court Ruling upholding the bulk of the Affordable Care Act (immediately followed by the Congressional Baseball game!), and the belaboring, unfruitful 18-month-long Majority investigation into the loan guarantee for a failed solar company.

My year as a Congressional Fellow has taught me far more than I could have learned from a book or a class on the Legislative Branch. Aside from crash-courses in government and law, I’ve gained a very practical perspective on policy and politics.

Because staffers deal with so many issues, and it is impossible to know everything, they tend to rely on well-informed people for information and for building support. I filled that role in my office on certain scientific topics, but relied heavily on outside contacts as well. The Fellows network provided a great starting point. For example, I have called on fellow Fellows to raise support for our letter to OMB, to better understand the current situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan, and to get updates on food safety issues. I also widened this network, including to staffers, researchers, agency liaisons and others. I have learned that savvy contacts are generous with assistance, because they never know who may be able to help them out in return someday.

I’ve also come to believe that one person can indeed make a difference. In my time in this office, I have seen the questions or requests of individuals raise awareness of an issue, influence decisions and even result in Congressional action. Congressional offices consider all of the letters and calls they receive. On the other hand, the current power balance in the House of Representatives has taught me that it is sometimes necessary to choose your battles, that legislation is not the only way to affect change, and that it pays to be persistent.

For the upcoming year, I have decided to accept a 2012-2013 AAAS Executive Branch Fellowship at the National Science Foundation, in the Office of Cyberinfrastructure. This new experience will provide a complementary perspective on the workings of the Federal government, and on how our national research priorities are set.

I cannot thank the American Chemical Society enough for this Fellowship experience. It has allowed me to engage with the issues of today and gain skills to help affect change. I am immensely grateful to the ACS and AAAS staff and my current office for their support of this program, and enthusiastically recommend it to other scientists. I am most grateful that I go forward with a tremendous new network of colleagues and friends.