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The Environmentalists: Laura Wang

Q&A

By Laura Paisley
November 12, 2013

Laura Wang ’12 is an executive fellow for renewable energy in the office of California Gov. Jerry Brown. Previously, she worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Wang graduated from USC Dornsife with a progressive master’s degree in environmental studies. Illustration by Niklas Asker.

Laura Wang ’12 is an executive fellow for renewable energy in the office of California Gov. Jerry Brown. Previously, she worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Wang graduated from USC Dornsife with a progressive master’s degree in environmental studies. Illustration by Niklas Asker.

Describe your job working on Gov. Jerry Brown’s renewable energy team.

I work in the executive branch on energy and environmental policy for the state, preparing talking points and memos on issues, and managing some of the governor’s own initiatives. I wrote a summary of climate change impacts and consequences for California, which the governor used in his 2013 State of the State address. It’s exciting; you read about issues in the news, then the next day you’re actually working on that same controversial hydraulic fracking legislation.* California has a very diverse population, and this must be reflected in our environmental policies. In the governor’s office, we’re serving the people of California, who have many disparate interests. Balancing those is a big challenge.

How does this job build on your experience interning in the White House?

My internship directly exposed me to executive branch management, which is a lot of corralling and directing agencies, while representing an administration’s view. My boss was the associate director of National Environmental Policy Act(NEPA) Oversight, which essentially directs every government department or agency to write up an environmental impact statement that examines the environmental effects of agency actions. NEPA was enacted in 1969, but there is a push to reinvigorate it since today’s environmental planning has evolved. Interns worked on initiatives to modernize it — using electronic tracking and finding better ways to streamline the policy processes.

Talk about your science diving experiences at USC.

I was particularly impacted by my Micronesia Problems Without Passports course on ecosystems management. One thing that always stuck with me is the statistic that 99 percent of scientists believe in climate change but less than half of politicians do. I wondered why we don’t follow the science. It drove home the fact that we have good science data, but the policy context is where I want to focus.

This was reinforced by my science diving at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island, at Big Fisherman’s Cove, a protected marine area. In an independent research project, I developed a methodology for monitoring the health of the marine protected area.
The project is still being used by USC students.

If you could have any superpower related to government work, what would it be?

The ability to comprehend draft legislation and bill analyses with lightning speed. In government you still find words like “hereunto.” Legislators don’t write their bills for easy public consumption.

 

*California Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2013 signed into law regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process denounced by environmental groups. In preparation for the development of shale-oil reserves, the state now requires permits to use the drilling technique. Through this method, millions of gallons of chemically treated water are injected underground, loosening rock and freeing oil and natural gas. Energy companies will have to disclose the ingredients in fracking fluid and notify nearby landowners of their plans.

Read more stories from USC Dornsife Magazine's Fall 2013-Winter 2014 issue