Environmental love starts with dirty beaches

Kathleen Frangione’s fascination with environmental policy and climate change started when she was 10 years old.

That summer, medical waste from New York City forced the New Jersey beaches near her home to be closed, something Frangione called a “supreme injustice” for a young girl who spent every summer day there. The incident set off a lifelong passion for environmental activism.

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“You know how, if you have storm drains in your neighborhood, people paint fish on them to remind you that whatever you throw in the street is going to wash into your local watershed?” she said. “That was me.”

After organizing beach cleanups, writing letters to her congressman and following her passion to pursue environmental science at Harvard University, Frangione joined the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year as a legislative assistant handling energy, the environment and climate change.

She is now on the frontlines of a worldwide climate debate that will come to a head Dec. 7 at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Frangione will be one of approximately 10,000 officials from the 200 countries that are expected to attend the conference, which promises to shape how the international community deals with climate issues in the foreseeable future.

“This December is when we are supposed to craft the next global deal, so the negotiating schedule is ramping up,” Frangione said. “All of the delegates from other countries are tremendously interested in Congress’s approach to climate policy and what we are going to do and when, because that will really color the negotiations. If we come in having passed a climate bill and having national climate policy in place, that makes getting a deal on the international stage a lot easier.”

In preparation for the conference, Frangione has been traveling the globe for more than two years, attending climate conferences in Bali, Indonesia; Poland; London; and Bangkok, Thailand. She recently returned from a trip to Beijing with her boss, committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Frangione owes her current job to Kerry. While a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, she joined Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

“I’d been studying environmental policy in grad school and I felt very strongly that the most important thing we could do to advance environmental issues was to elect John Kerry as president,” she said.

She met several of Kerry’s Senate staffers while volunteering at campaign headquarters, and those contacts enabled Frangione to land a job in Kerry’s personal office in 2007. When Kerry assumed the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee at the beginning of the 111th Congress, Frangione followed. It’s a move she will never regret.

“There are few places to be more engaged at the intersection of the domestic and international climate debate than working for Sen. Kerry on the Foreign Relations Committee on these issues,” she said. “I really can’t think of anywhere that would be more exciting to be for me, especially right now. Just to be part of that process — I never imagined that would be something that I’d have the opportunity to do. It’s fascinating.”