The Atkinson Center Washington Policy Briefing Series brings sound science and research to bear on the most pressing legislative issues of our time. These briefings, designed for media, legislative staff, agency staff and legislators, feature faculty experts who contribute information and analysis without political agenda to some of today’s most salient topics.

These briefings provide broad and responsible coverage of the scientific debates behind the political debates. The Center does not take positions but promotes open and honest evidence-based dialog.  The Center is committed to presenting a range of science-based approaches so that the nation’s politicians, thought leaders and decision makers can make informed choices on public policy.

Chemical Exposure in Everyday Life: Links to Disease and Disorder - Updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (June 18, 2013)

Hazardous chemicals at homeThis briefing explored how chemicals found in everyday products are impacting human health and the environment. It addressed how the field of toxicology has advanced since the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976. In the intervening years, our knowledge of toxicology has expanded from a world when cancer and death were our primary concerns to one where we understand how chemicals, endocrine disruptors and complex mixtures of chemical compounds are having subtle impacts on our quality of life. Toxic substances continue to pose significant challenges for regulatory agencies, but there are new tools capable of quickly detecting pollutants, food contamination and disease in places where medical labs are unavailable. The Cornell faculty members supported the need for a science-based law to limit chemical exposure in the environment.

  • Anthony Hay is an ecotoxicologist and microbiologist. He studies the fate of pollutants in different environments, including humans.  Interested in the role of gut microbes and environmental chemicals on obesity, he teaches environmental toxicology and is director of Cornell’s Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology. 
  • Motoko Mukai is a board certified toxicologist and senior research associate in the College of Veterinary Medicine. She researches the toxic effects of persistent environmental contaminants on health.  Knowledgeable about chemical leakage from food packaging, household items, and industrial compounds, such as PCBs, dioxins, and other endocrine disrupting compounds, she also performs risk assessments and makes diagnoses based on clinical signs and sample analysis for toxic residues.
  • Margaret W. Frey is an associate professor of Fiber Science in the College of Human Ecology. She designs fibers hundreds of times thinner than a human hair to capture bacteria, viruses, and toxic chemicals.  She puts the fibers into fast, inexpensive detectors as easy to use as a home pregnancy test to identify contamination of our food and water supply and to diagnose disease.

The Compelling Logic of Carbon Taxation (March 1, 2013)

CO2 emitted from smokestackCornell professor and New York Times' columnist Robert H. Frank and Professor Antonio Bento, an expert in the economics of renewable energy, discussed how a carbon tax could reduce catastrophic loss from climate change and generate revenues to reduce the federal budget deficit, as well as labor and capital taxes. They illustrated how a carbon tax could be implemented and expected revenues to be generated. In addition, they addressed the anticipated economic impacts on gasoline prices and various constituencies as well as incentives created for sustainable energy production.

  • Robert H. Frank is a professor of economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. He is also a widely followed contributor to the "Economic View" column in the New York Times where he has written about the carbon tax.
  • Antonio Bento is an associate professor of economics in Cornell's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. He is a leading environmental economist working in the areas of climate change and renewable energy policy.

Environmental Risks and Community Response to Hydraulic Fracturing (June 25, 2012)

Susan ChristophersonProfessors Anthony Ingraffea (CEE) and Susan Christopherson (CRP) provided briefings for Congress and journalists on the unconventional gas exploration technique known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," citing science and statistics while sharing their expertise on the controversial topic.


Gas well in NYVast amounts of natural gas are encased in the Marcellus shale, a tightly packed geologic formation extending across much of southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Extracting the gas requires fracturing the shale and inserting large volumes of high-pressure water mixed with various chemicals. Susan J. Riha, professor in Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, and director of New York’s State Water Resources Institute, and Rod Howe, Cornell’s Cooperative Extension’s Assistant Director of Community and Economic Vitality and executive director of the Community and Rural Development Institute discussed this process and its potential environmental, community and economic impacts at a congressional briefing.

Jody Gangloff-KaufmannBed bugs and mosquitoes are threats to human, animal and livestock health. Cornell entomologists Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann and Laura Harrington briefed legislators on the latest research into these two common insects, which are spreading discomfort and disease at alarming rates. Gangloff-Kaufmann, an internationally known bed bug expert who is on the front line of the battle for control in New York City and elsewhere, discussed strategies to combat these pests. Harrington talked about mosquito-transmitted diseases in the US, including the West Nile virus, Dengue fever virus, encephalitis viruses and dog heartworm and the Chikungunya virus. 

Carbon Sequestration Practices – Using Geological Formations and Developing Biochar (July 13, 2010)
   (Cosponsored with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station)

Johannes LehmannCornell Professors Johannes Lehmann (CSS) and Teresa Jordan (EAS) discussed state-of-the-art carbon sequestration practices in climate mitigation strategies with legislative staff from the House and Senate on July 13. One of the world's authorities on biochar, Professor Lehmann discussed how heating biomass creates renewable energy and a charcoal co-product, biochar, which captures carbon and when applied to soils, improves crop performance. Professor Jordan's groundbreaking team in the Northeast focuses on geologic sequestration, a process injecting carbon dioxide underground for long-term storage.

carbon emissionsIn meeting the greenhouse gas emission targets of tomorrow, the United States should turn to its farms today. David Wolfe (HORT) and Antonio Bento (AEM) propose solutions to problematic policy issues associated with agriculture and forestry in carbon offset programs.

High tunnelsProfessors David Wolfe (HORT) and Art DeGaetano (EAS) delivered a briefing on “Agricultural and Natural Resources in a Changing Climate: Tools for Adaptation” in March, 2009, as Congress considered comprehensive legislation addressing climate change.

“The old way of doing business where we looked to the past as a guide to the future is failing,” DeGaetano told an audience of nearly 50 staffers from Congress, the executive branch, and administrative agencies.

dairy cowA commercial cheeseburger contains up to 100 ingredients, so opportunities abound throughout the food chain for mistakes that could lead to foodborne illnesses, Cornell Professor Robert Gravani told Congressional staff members June 15, 2009. However, errors could be significantly reduced with improved protocols, he said. Just days before a U.S. House committee voted to expand the Food and Drug Administration's power to monitor the nation's food supply, Gravani and colleague Kathryn Boor briefed about 45 Congressional staffers on the science of food safety at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Max PfefferCornell sociologists Max Pfeffer and Pilar Parra discussed the unintended consequences of national immigration policies and how local communities are addressing immigration. More immigrants live in the United States today than at any time since 1910. Almost one-third of these immigrants entered the country without government authorization, most often to seek work. Using case studies, recent trends and statistics Parra and Pfeffer illustrated that immigration control alone can't work. They advocate for a comprehensive approach that includes support for community development to accommodate immigrants and help them become an asset rather than a burden.