Kathryn Parker

ACS Congressional Fellow, 2000-2001


Kathryn Parker, a native Californian, received her Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University in Biology and her Master of Science degree from the University of Colorado in Chemistry. She has taught chemistry in various community colleges in southern California, performed nucleic acids research at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and developed medical diagnostic test kits for a biotech startup company. She has also worked in the area of environmental chemistry, acting as a consultant to both government and private entities managing environmental remediation projects.

Kathryn was a 2000-2001 ACS Congressional Fellow in the office of Senator Jim Jeffords (R/I-VT) and worked on environmental and energy-related issues. After the Hill, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as Chief of the Global Change Information Branch working on ozone depletion and climate change.

Most recently, she moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to work for the U.S. National Park Service as Lead for Science Information and Education Services at Grand Canyon National Park.

Capitol Connection Article, December 2000:
“ACS Member Enters the Public Policy Arena”

While attending the ACS spring 1999 meeting in Anaheim, California, I attended a talk given by the then current ACS Congressional Fellow at a Younger Chemists Committee event. The more I thought about it over the next few weeks, the more I found the possibility of serving as an ACS fellow in the Congress an exciting prospect. As I have been a member of the Society for over 20 years, since the beginning of my professional career, I could no longer be considered part of the “younger chemists.” Therefore, I was pleased to learn that ACS affords this unique opportunity to mid-career chemists as well. I thought that my significant professional and life experiences, together with my broad background of technical training might bring a particularly useful synthesis to such a position as the congressional fellowship.

I have always been interested in the intersection of science and public policy. Many believe, however, that politics is a questionable business and as scientists we shouldn’t sully our hands with it. In graduate school, I dared to ask a question of a prominent speaker in the then-emerging field of recombinant DNA research, about the political and ethical consequences of scientists’ work and their subsequent responsibilities. The orthodox comment was made to me that science is science, and that science should not be involved in politics. Although I have been an activist on many issues, up until now like most scientists I have kept my scientific work separate from any perceived “political interests.”

After receiving my master’s degree in chemistry, I worked in many different scientific fields and endeavors. As a research assistant, I performed basic nucleic acids research at the Salk Institute and then worked as a research associate in the R&D department of Hybritech, a biotech start-up company. My interest in science education led me to teach chemistry courses at several community colleges and my international concerns led me to teach science for one year at a school in Honduras. In an attempt to bring my scientific career and one of my passionate “activist” interests closer together, I decided to venture into the field of environmental chemistry. For the last 10 years, I have worked in environmental consulting, managing environmental remediation projects in both the public and private sectors. However, the best combination of my interests still eluded me. Luckily, I was offered one of two 2000-2001 ACS Congressional Fellowships.

Now I find myself at the intersection of science and politics, and given the recent election events, particularly the politics part of the mix. I arrived in Washington DC on the first of September to begin my fellowship year, after a very long drive from San Diego. The first two weeks were spent in an orientation session organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which acts as the umbrella organization for the approximate 30 professional societies that sponsor congressional fellowship programs.

After the orientation program, the fellows interviewed with many different congressional offices and committees, from both the House and Senate side. I decided to accept an offer from Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. I wanted to work on environmental issues, many of which are of interest to his constituents. He also sits on several Senate committees that address environmentally related issues. So far, two of the issues I have already been immersed in are global climate change (specifically carbon sequestration in forests) and water quality issues (Total Maximum Daily Loads). As the 107th Congress begins, there are plenty more environmental issues on the horizon and I look forward to addressing an array of environmental policy concerns. No matter what environmental legislation I ultimately work on, however, I hope to contribute to strengthening the relationships between science and “politics.”

Mid-Year Fellowship Report, April 2001

In mid-October, after an informative 2-week orientation program, which was followed by interviewing in personal and committee congressional offices, I accepted an offer in the office of Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. However, after a few weeks, I realized that this was not the best fit for me. Therefore, upon my return from the year-end break, I accepted a position in the office of Senator Jeffords, a Republican from Vermont.

My primary responsibility in Senator Jeffords’ office is for energy issues, specifically Clean Air and renewable energy. Because of Senator Jeffords’ past bi-partisan involvement on environmental issues and because he is in a unique position as a moderate in the now 50-50 Senate, he is often looked to for his leadership on these issues. As the 107th Congress unfolds, developing a comprehensive energy policy has already become one of the key concerns of this Congress and of the Administration. Working on air and energy issues also brings me into the current debate on global climate change.

In the time I've been in Senator Jeffords' office, much has been accomplished. I was the key staff person for drafting and introducing a very important multi-pollutant bill on emission reductions from power plants. This bill, the Clean Power Act of 2001 (S. 556), was introduced on March 15. This important bill sets stringent standards for nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide emissions. Neither mercury nor carbon dioxide emissions from power plants have been regulated before. As the principal staff person on this legislation, I took primary responsibility for coordinating the drafting of and revisions to the bill as well as the press conference and its introduction in the Senate. The bill had four primary sponsors in the Senate. The bill was introduced simultaneously in the House with two primary sponsors. Coordinating between six Congressional Offices was a real challenge, but I found my past training and experience, especially in management, proved to be extremely useful.

In preparing this important piece of legislation, I have written press and floor statements for the Senator, been involved in several hearings and briefings on energy and environmental policy, met and negotiated with several environmental groups as well as representatives from the EPA and utility companies. I am also working on an alternative fuel vehicles tax credit bill that is very promising and has support from the auto industry, alternative fuel companies, and environmental groups. Later this month, I will be directing my efforts on appropriations for renewable energy.

The ACS National Meeting held recently in San Diego, afforded me the opportunity to make several presentations related to my experience thus far as an ACS Congressional Fellow. These included several presentations describing and recruiting for the ACS fellowship program (ACS booth, Sci-Mix poster session, and industry pavilion), a presentation on trends in environmental legislation (Division of Environmental Chemistry), and one on career changes (Division of Professional Relations).

As my fellowship year in the Senate unfolds, I feel fortunate to have been chosen as an ACS Congressional Fellow. In addition to being afforded the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the legislative process, I hope that I am contributing to strengthening the relationship between science and public policy.

Since neither Congress itself nor its staff have much scientific or technical background, AAAS Congressional Fellows can and should continue to contribute significantly to this law-making process.