Student Focus: Environmental Policy Intern, Kenny Mort

My name is Kenny Mort and I am going into my senior year at Humboldt State University (HSU). I am majoring in Environmental Science and Management (ESM) with a focus in Planning and Policy and a double minor in both Geospatial Analysis and Philosophy. This year, I am additionally serving as the College of Natural Resources & Sciences (CNRS) Representative for the Associated Students (AS) of Humboldt State University. AS is a student-run organization that allocates student fees to AS funded programs to serve the students of HSU. I am hoping to use this position to influence campus decisions toward a more sustainable and less wasteful campus. Working as an ESM major with my specific focus, I have had the opportunity to take multiple classes relating to environmental law and regulation. I have always been an avid follower of environmental politics, but taking these classes inspired me to turn it into a future career as an environmental consultant. I have always wanted to help protect and preserve the natural world and I believe that a legislation and regulation route is the best way I can accomplish that goal.

In order to graduate with an ESM degree from HSU, students are required to complete either a directed study course or an internship in their field of study. I had been planning on looking for an internship during my junior year and then starting it during my senior year. I had been planning on fulfilling this requirement at this point in my academic career so I could learn as much as possible in school before applying it to my field of study. However, in the spring semester of my junior year, I received an email advertising an environmental policy internship with the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC). It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, so I applied and started working on it right away.

Since then, I have been an environmental policy intern under the NEC legislative analyst, Dan Sealy. Some of my duties include tracking federal legislation related to public lands and reporting their status back to the NEC Conservation Committee, as well as writing pieces for EcoNews. Before I started working with Dan, I had a basic, high school level understanding of how legislation moves through Congress. Through the internship, Dan has taught the intricacies of legislation undisclosed to the public as it passes through the chambers of Congress. He also introduced the political schemes both parties practice in order to sway votes to their side, some of which were in play with my most recent legislation project.

I accepted the task of focusing on a piece of legislation known as the Great American Outdoors Act. This bill would establish a five-year trust fund to address maintenance backlogs in the National Park Service, National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. It would, additionally, establish permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This bill is a landmark piece of conservation legislation that has bipartisan support in both chambers of congress, but that did not stop some political schemes from occurring. Just when it seemed the bill would easily pass the Senate, some Gulf State senators, led by Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy, demanded that more of the bill’s funds from oil and gas revenues be shared with Gulf States. This was more than likely a fake pushback to show their constituents that they have their best interests at heart. Despite the last-minute pushback, the bill passed the Senate safely. The bill, which had bi-partisan support in the House, was eventually added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in response to a veto threat by President Trump. The NDAA currently awaits President Trump’s signature.

My experience with the NEC internship has been exceptional as I have learned so much more about environmental legislation and how it maneuvers through at the national level. Not only that, but I have attended most of the monthly NEC Conservation Committee meetings and learned about different environmental issues in the local Humboldt County area. I know that I will be using this political knowledge in my future career as an environmental consultant, but I am also not discouraged by a possible career in politics, either. Whatever the future holds, I am thankful to the NEC for giving me an opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills in my field of study.