A Closer Look: Joshua Mandelbaum
Staff attorney, Iowa Environmental Law and Policy Center
Friday, October 26, 2012 7:00 AM
• Age: 33
• Hometown: Des Moines
• Education: Brown University and University of Iowa College of Law
• Family: Engaged
You might describe Joshua Mandelbaum as a big issues kind of guy. He spent nearly four years as a senior policy advisor in the administration of Gov. Tom Vilsack and Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, where he was involved in the creation of the Iowa Care initiative. He left state government to pick up a law degree and, after a stint with Lane & Waterman LLP in Davenport, he decided to take on the big issues of air and water quality with the Iowa Environmental Law and Policy Center.
What draws you to big issues? Health care, air and water quality are a lot to take on.
I think that in any job with a public service or public interest component, you get involved because you want to have a direct impact on people’s lives and make your community a better place. The big issues have an impact on everyone’s lives. Everyone can enjoy the benefits of clean water, whether it be having safe drinking water or being able to enjoy a weekend on an Iowa lake or river. Everyone has a stake in energy, whether it’s creating jobs by building Iowa’s renewable energy economy or strengthening energy-efficiency efforts so households and businesses can use less energy and reduce their utility bills.
What drew you to environmental law?
The issues that the Environmental Law and Policy Center works on are important to all Iowans. Renewable energy can play such an important and vital role in the Iowa economy, with the growth of the wind energy sector and opportunities for other renewable energy, such as developing a strong solar sector in Iowa, we have an opportunity to make a difference both in our environmental impact and the state of the economy. Another important issue is water quality. Everyone in this state cares about the quality of the water we drink and the health of our rivers, lakes and streams, whether it’s for families who want to go the lake for the weekend and swim in the lake or boat on the lake or a fisherman who wants to spend the weekend fishing on our streams. It’s a great way to contribute to the quality of life and work on issues that all Iowans care about.
Where is your focus right now? Does water trump air, or vice versa?
There are pieces of each. Part of being prepared and knowing the issues and building relationships is that you take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. That’s why it’s important when you are talking about water quality to build good relationships with farmers and to work with the farmers who are good stewards and who can be a model for other farmers. There certainly are opportunities with renewable energy. Right now we have a united congressional delegation – we don’t get our congressional delegation to agree on many issues – but they have all agreed on the importance of wind energy and renewing the production tax credit, and that creates an opportunity to look at other policy that can perhaps support renewable energy in Iowa with a similar level of bipartisan support.
You were in Washington, D.C., for a time. That would seem to be an ideal location for a policy specialist.
While I was out east, I definitely wanted to come back to Iowa. I’ve lived all over the state at this point … but Central Iowa has always been my home. Washington is dominated by one industry, and while I like politics, the folks in Iowa are a little more grounded.
How did you get this job?
Last August, I went on a trip to the Canadian Rockies with my dad and brothers. We were hiking in some of the most scenic and remote places that I’ve been. On one of these hikes, we ran into another family. It turned out to be Howard Learner, the executive director of (the Environmental Law and Policy Center), and his family, and they were staying at the same lodge as us. I happened to be wearing my University of Iowa College of Law Environmental Law Society T-shirt. We instantly started talking about our common interests and the work that ELPC does. A month or so after I returned from vacation, I got a call from Howard and the rest is history.
What are the rewards and frustrations of your job?
It’s rewarding to talk with someone who’s back from a weekend paddling down an Iowa river that’s cleaner because of our efforts. On the other side, as you mentioned, these are big issues. There aren’t easy solutions to these problems and change doesn’t come quickly. To be successful requires patience, perseverance and being willing to work with anyone, despite past differences, to move these issues forward.
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