- We're working to develop a resource plan that the Austin City Council can adopt to put Austin Energy on a path to be 100% carbon-free by 2030. Getting the coal-fired Fayette Power Project (a power plant partially owned by Austin Energy) retired is a top goal. Shutting down Austin Energy's natural gas-fired power plants and stopping any proposals for natural gas plants in Austin is also critical. We're pushing for increasing renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand response and energy storage goals. And we're working with low-income advocates to develop an affordability goal that will be more protective of low and medium-income residents.
- We're working with a coalition of partners in San Antonio to get a climate action plan created for the city. We're also getting ready to work with the San Antonio electric utility (CPS) to develop a resource plan that includes more renewable energy (including local solar) and energy efficiency.
- We're working with partners in the Houston area to educate the public about air pollution and to make improvements in the areas with the worst air quality. That include the Port of Houston area, which is home to many low-income residents who live in close proximity to oil refineries, chemical plants and lots of heavy diesel equipment.
Public Citizen's Texas office takes on a lot with a small staff. We educate the public and government officials about strategies that will reduce air and water pollution, stop climate change, and preserve our precious water supplies. We promote clean, renewable energy (wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand response) and fight against dirty fossil fuels. We work with community groups, cities, and electric utilities to expand access to renewable energy - especially solar - though incentives, community solar, fair policies to compensate customers for energy produce, and solar group purchasing programs. We are working to get old dirty coal plants - the largest sources of greenhouse gases and other pollution in Texas - retired and stop the construction of new natural gas-fired power plants (including right here in Austin). We fought the tar sands pipeline in east Texas and pushed for regulations to limit methane (a greenhouse gas 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period) emissions from oil and gas wells and processing equipment. We are also a watchdog for government corruption. We call attention to ethical violations by government officials and support strengthening ethics laws. There is a great deal to be done on these important issues throughout Texas. Your support is critical to our work.
Public Citizen's Texas office needs funding for a variety of projects, but the one that we are prioritizing with this fundraising effort is paying our interns. Here's why:
Public Citizen's Texas office has run a robust intern program over the past 33 years, both to increase the amount of work we can accomplish and to train the next generation of activists. The hundreds of interns who have spent time with us have been integral to our success and have left better prepared effect change in the world. Interns have done research, written reports, prepared materials for events and lobbying, delivered testimony in legislative hearings, assisted with events for decision makers and the public, written blog posts and helped manage our social media presence.
For the most part, our interns have been unpaid. While we do believe that they have benefited from the experience, there are compelling reasons for us to seek funding to begin paying our interns.
Increasing Value to Public Citizen:
Paid internships should yield a larger, more qualified pool of applicants to choose from. Some especially qualified candidates have ultimately decided to take an internship elsewhere because we couldn't pay them and another employer could. Our goal is to attract enough applicants that we can select those who not only meet the basic qualifications, but who are highly intelligent, have shown previous interests in policy, advocacy or the issues we work on. Even a modest salary will attract significantly more candidates.
Paid interns should also have a greater incentive to continue putting a full effort into their internships throughout the semester. While we seek interns that are self-motivated and dedicated, working without pay can have a detrimental effect on motivation and therefore productivity.
Increasing Value to Our Interns:
A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that paid internships are much more valuable in getting jobs after graduation than unpaid internships. In fact, that research shows that those who had unpaid internships fared only slightly better than those with no internships. The study showed that 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer, 37 percent of unpaid interns got an offer, and 35.2 percent received at least one job offer.
Although we do work with interns to get course credit for their internships if they want, this actually costs those interns significant money. Even at public universities, the course fee charged for receiving credit for an internship about $900 for just 2 credits. Students who want to get 3 credits will pay even more. This means that some of our interns are spending a significant amount of money to work for us.
Some of our interns are Austin residents, but many commute from San Marcos and occasionally from even further away. A salary would offset that cost.
Many students are simply unable to accept unpaid internships because they must support themselves. This includes students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, but historic and ongoing racial inequities in our society also translate to students of color. The majority of students who apply for our internships are white. This severely limits our ability to hire a diverse set of interns. This results in a lost opportunity for students of color to gain needed experience.
As Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a recent New York Times op-ed, "The stakes of America's broken internship system are high. As report after report reminds us, this generation of students faces significantly worse job prospects than its predecessors. Without the short-term opportunities to help them learn, grow, connect with mentors and begin climbing the earnings curve, many promising young people with limited means are denied the chance to rise as high as their talent will take them. The result is not limited to the labor market. The broader implication is privilege multiplied by privilege, a compounding effect prejudiced against students who come from working-class or lower-income circumstances. By shutting out these students from entry-level experiences in certain fields, entire sectors engineer long-term deficits of much-needed talent and perspective. In other words, we're all paying the price for unpaid internships."
As Mr. Walker describes, the lack of racial diversity in our intern applicants perpetuates economic racial inequities and represents lost opportunity for our organization. A more diverse group of interns will bring different perspectives on the issues we work on, including on how best to reach out to and communicate with the communities they come from. By offering paid internships we will give a more diverse universe of students the opportunity to intern with us. This will both be more equitable and will improve the effectiveness of Public Citizen's Texas office.
"Public Citizen gets things done that help Texans, all Texans, have a better life. We volunteer with Public Citizen because Public Citizen walks its talk to look out for the rights of all Texans." ~Richard and Beki Halpin (Austin, Texas)