Marianne Lalonde, Ph.D.

ACS Congressional Fellow, 2014-2015

Biography

Marianne Lalonde, one of the 2014-2015 ACS congressional fellows, worked on Capitol Hill in the office of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).  She completed her Ph.D in chemistry at Northwestern University in the field of functional nanostructured materials, specifically metal-organic framework (MOF) materials. She also holds a Certificate in Management from Northwestern, and a B.S. in chemistry with minors in French and biology from Case Western Reserve University.  Lalonde has won numerous awards for her work in sustainability: she was selected as a Fellow of the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern; she was a NUVentures Business Plan Competition semifinalist and a Kellogg Innovation Network Business Plan Competition semifinalist; and she won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge. While at Northwestern University, Lalonde helped pioneer a collaboration that pairs science graduate students with journalism classes, enhancing journalists’ knowledge and communication of science and educating scientists about the media.

Year-End Fellowship Report

It is hard to believe my year as a congressional fellow has come to an end. I am grateful to both ACS and the public affairs staff for this opportunity, as well as Senator Brown and his staff for welcoming me into their office. My experience on Capitol Hill has given me the chance to develop both professionally and personally, and the following statement will describe some of the highlights of my year.

Fellows working in the personal offices with senators typically work directly with one legislative assistant in their issue area of choice. While I had initially planned on working in the environmental and energy policy areas, I took on a broader role as the “resident scientist” in the Brown office. I covered issues relating to water quality in the Great Lakes, hydraulic fracturing in the Utica shale, and crude oil production, but also worked with the military legislative assistant on defense research issues, (Air Force Research Lab is located in Dayton, Ohio,) on a bill to preserve notable sites in the Civil Rights Movement, and with the banking committee staff on cybersecurity initiatives.

In my role as a legislative fellow, my tasks included writing letters to agencies to support funding applications from Ohio-based companies and organizations, writing a statement for the record for the Senator to give on the floor, promoting co-sponsorships, assisting with press releases, and writing the text of bills and amendments. One of my favorite responsibilities was staffing the Senator during committee hearings. Senator Brown serves on the Agriculture, Finance and Veterans’ committees, and in January of 2014, became the ranking member on the Banking committee. I attended many Agriculture committee hearings, as agriculture and water quality are closely overlapping areas. (For example, one hearing covered phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie from fertilizer contributing to harmful algal blooms.)  Since Senator Brown does not serve on energy and natural resources, I never anticipated preparing for an energy-related hearing, but was very surprised when a crude oil exports hearing was scheduled for the Banking Committee. It continues to amaze me how much overlap there is between different issue areas and how broad of a portfolio and knowledge base each staffer must maintain in order for each office to function.

The 114th Congress has been a particularly good year to be a chemist on the Hill. After nearly four decades efforts are well underway to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which regulates the introduction of new or existing chemicals into the commercial market. I had the opportunity to provide technical advice to Senator Udall’s staff during revisions of the bill, and advocated for Senator Brown’s co-sponsorship. It was a truly rewarding experience to simultaneously feel impactful in both Congress and the chemical industry.

With the guidance of former AAAS congressional fellow and current Senate Armed Services staffer Arun Seraphin, I was able to have language incorporated in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act to authorize an entrepreneurial sabbatical program at Department of Defense laboratories. This program, piloted at Air Force Research Lab, will allow Department of Defense scientists to either seek a license to a Department of Defense patent in order to start their own company, or provide technical support to an existing company that is a Department of Defense licensee. Not only was it extremely exciting to see language I had written make it to the floor, but working with Arun showed me the lasting impact AAAS Fellows can leave on the Hill and the value of the AAAS fellow network.

During the August recess, I had the opportunity to travel to Ohio and was struck by how much constituents valued our influence. I visited a laboratory that monitors harmful algal blooms, the headquarters of Marathon Petroleum, Ohio State University, Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, and a Department of Energy uranium enrichment facility undergoing decommissioning and decontamination, among other sites. I felt most impactful during a visit to the rural communities of Springfield and Tremont. For years, residents have tried to have a hazardous waste landfill in their area designated as a Superfund site and remediated. The landfill currently sits above an aquifer that provides drinking water to the surrounding area. They were so impassioned during my visit that someone had come from Washington to look at the landfill site and investigate what their next steps should be to resolve the issue; one community leader even went as far as to offer to let me stay the night in her home as opposed to driving back to Columbus. As a mid-level staffer for the minority party, some days you feel minimally influential, or reduced to a cog in the political machine. Visiting Springfield and Tremont reminded me that constituents rely on federal outreach to resolve certain concerns in their communities.

Even in politically stressful times, an opportunity to induce change still exists. Lately, Congress has had a negative reputation in the media for lack of productivity. Despite frustrations, I have learned during this year that there is the opportunity for representatives and their staffs to make a difference even if it is not through passage of legislation.

Become a Fellow

Application deadline: January 15

Contact the Policy Fellowship Program

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