By Brooklyn Draisey
For Associate Professor David Cwiertny, politics and the environment go hand-in-hand.
He spoke about his time in Washington as a staff member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday. This talk was part of the series Wonk Wednesdays, which occurs Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.
Cwiertny, a University of Iowa associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, joined the committee staff through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which puts scientists and engineers throughout all three branches of the government. Cwiertny and 34 others went to Congress.
All of the members underwent two weeks of training before joining the government and learned about everything from economics and policymaking to how to correctly act at a state dinner.
They had different speakers from all aspects of the government, but the most memorable for Cwiertny was John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, who discussed the Obama administration’s scientific priorities.
“Probably the most memorable part for me is that science is really intertwined with policy, and this program really wants you to appreciate that,“ Cwiertny said.
In the committee there are different teams serving different specific functions. The team Cwiertny and seven or eight others were on covered energy and environment. His team dealt with clean air, water, and soil.
As a member of the team, Cwiertny said, he wrote a lot. He mostly just tried to tell people about the issues that his committee focused on, because he was working with the Democrats, and they were the minority party.
“We don’t really set an agenda, we just sort of say, ‘Hey, pay attention, these are issues,’ ” he said.
One of the issues that the committee pushed on was water quality and drinking-water infrastructure. One specific location that Cwiertny worked on was Detroit. The city’s population was declining rapidly, and they were losing money, which meant that they could no longer deal with such problems as leaking sewers that affected the drinking water.
“We need to federally invest in drinking-water infrastructure. It’s aging, it’s failing, and we aren’t just going to get out of this by increasing the rate we pay for drinking water,“ Cwiertny said.
Cwiertny also focused on changes in environmental policy before and after President Trump came into office. The two different administrations had very different views on environmental policies, and it was difficult to go through with what the Obama administration put in when the Trump administration refused to go through with it.
Brenda Nations, the Iowa City sustainability coordinator, attended Wednesday’s meeting and found it insightful.
“I think it was really interesting to see how economic policy works on a federal level and how it affects us locally,” she said.
Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton, who also attended the meeting, said that he would like to talk to Cwiertny about various items, and maybe start an internship in which interns would work with the City Council.
He said people should understand the difference between the national and city governments.
“There’s a big difference between policymaking at the federal level and at the local level,“ he said in relation to environmental policies.