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Meet Emily Kelly, Water Fellow at the Ohio Environmental Council

Emily Kelly traveled to Athens County in May 2023 to present on the OEC’s work to the Appalachian Watershed Council. Credit: Molly Jo Stanley

Emily Kelly is halfway through her Water Fellowship at the OEC. Raised in Ohio, her work is a great example of what opportunities await Ohioans if we invest in our state and in our people.

Where did your environmental interest start?

“When I was studying biology at Bowling Green State University, I had a chance to study the harmful algal blooms to see what was causing them. What we found was that rising temperatures exacerbate this issue that is plaguing Lake Erie. This came at the time when a lot of people didn’t really have a grasp of climate change or really believe in it. It wasn’t really being taught in younger generations’ schools. Through my minor in environmental science, I was inspired to share the message and learn more. I joined an environmental advocacy organization, The Lake Erie Foundation, and then pursued my masters in environmental science.”

How has your work at the OEC impacted Ohio water policy?

“The OEC works with many partners on water policy at the local, state, and federal level. For example I had the chance to elevate coalition water policy priorities, like replacing lead service lines to legislators and their staff in D.C. I also conducted a water advocacy day at the Statehouse and spoke to several city council members on water issues. We saw some progress on these issues in the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—that has been distributed by Ohio’s State Revolving Funds program. I lead our advocacy for this investment in water infrastructure to be implemented through equitable means.”

In October 2022, Emily Kelly and several members of our team joined U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan and our partners in Cleveland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

When did you realize your ability to make a difference in Ohio?

“I was really taken aback that [lawmakers] are just regular people that have issues that they care about. Some have experienced injustices that they want to address. Many have passions that are similar to mine and they were able to make it to a place where they can make a difference. That gave me inspiration that I could make it to the top myself.”

In your view, why is Ohio important in the national environmental picture?

“A lot of the issues we face in Ohio, other states around us face as well. We have the opportunity to lead in addressing these issues by listening to our advocates. I think Ohio’s H2Ohio program, which is one of the best state initiatives on water quality, is a great step towards being a leader. It makes me hopeful that if we continue to invest in our environment that we can be a real leader in our region.”