Research AreasEnvironmental and Energy Economics

PERI's research on environmental & energy economics explores how to integrate the goals of environmental protection and improved economic well-being for working people. Topics include the employment impacts of the transition to clean energy; the distributional implications of alternative climate policies; corporate responsibility for industrial pollution; and policies to safeguard natural assets as the common heritage of humankind.

Inequality in Air Quality: Worse than Income Inequality

James K. Boyce (PERI), Klara Zwickl and Michael Ash have written a paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET)’s Working Group on the Political Economy of Distribution. The paper compares environmental inequality for the 50 U.S. states and 435 Congressional districts, using data on exposure to industrial air toxics from the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators of the EPA. In an interview about their findings, Jim Boyce says, “if you look how unequally environmental quality is distributed in the U.S., it actually makes inequality of the distribution of income look relatively modest.”  

>> Read "Three Measures of Environmental Inequality"

>> Read an interview with Jim Boyce on the INET blog (reposted to Huffington Post and elsewhere): "New Research Shows Pollution Inequality in America is Even Worse than Income Inequality"

Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities

PERI and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have jointly published a book-length study which develops a comprehensive unified program to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions while expanding job opportunities. The authors of the study, PERI Co-Director Robert Pollin, Associate Director James Heintz, and Assistant Research Professor Heidi Garrett-Peltier, along with CAP Senior Fellow Bracken Hendricks, explain that through $200 billion a year in clean energy investments by both the public and private sectors, the U.S. could both reduce U.S. energy consumption by 30 percent relative to current levels and expand production of clean renewable energy sources by 400 percent. These clean energy investments could deliver a 40 percent reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions within 20 years while concurrently creating a net increase of 2.7 million jobs. 

>> Summary of GREEN GROWTH

>> Full GREEN GROWTH study

>> Boston Review forum, featuring Robert Pollin article “Build the Green Economy”

>> Review of Green Growth by Jeremy Brecher in Challenge

>> Comments from scholars, lawmakers, and business leaders about GREEN GROWTH

Carbon Dividends: A Common Sense Solution to Climate Change

James Boyce, Director of PERI’s Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment, published a New York Times opinion piece on new federal climate legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) based around the idea of “cap and dividend.” The legislation would cap carbon pollution by requiring coal, oil and natural gas companies to buy permits from the federal government for each ton of carbon in the fuels they sell. The government then returns 100 percent of the proceeds straight to the American people as equal dividends. “If any climate bill should win bipartisan support, this is it,” Boyce writes.

>> Read "The Carbon Dividend"The New York Times

>> Read the Baltimore Sun's endorsement of the bill

Climate Policy as Wealth Creation

April 2014 -- Carbon pricing can help drive investment in renewables and energy efficiency. If and when we price emissions, a crucial economic and political question is: Who will get the money? The government, to use it to fund public spending or cut taxes? Corporations, which will get free permits and reap windfall profits? Or the public, as equal per person dividends, since nature’s gifts belong in common to us all? Earlier this month, PERI’s James K. Boyce delivered a lecture at The University of Pittsburgh Honors College which examined this question.

Race, Ethnicity and Income Disparities in Exposure to Air Toxics

April 2014 -- People of color and low-income communities tend to face disproportionate pollution hazards in the United States. But patterns of environmental inequality may vary from place to place. In this working paper, Klara Zwickl, Michael Ash, and James K. Boyce (Director of PERI’s Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment) investigate two questions: Do racial and ethnic disparities in exposure to industrial air toxics decline with rising incomes? And given inter-regional differences in the history of industrial development, patterns of immigration, and the extent of residential segregation, are there significant variations across regions in patterns of environmental inequality?

>> Read “Regional variation in environmental inequality: Industrial air toxics exposure in U.S. cities”

Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

February 2014 -- In a column in New Labor ForumPERI Co-Director Robert Pollin addresses two issues concerning President Obama's Climate Action Plan. First, contrary to the President's proposal, there is no realistic prospect for "clean coal" technologies to enable U.S. coal production to continue at anything close to its current level while still achieving reasonable greenhouse gas emissions targets. The second concern is: how can we provide adequate transition assistance for the roughly 50,000 coal industry workers whose jobs will be lost through the necessary coal industry contraction? Pollin builds from the idea of the late labor leader Tony Mazzocchi for a "Superfund" to support workers displaced by necessary environmental transitions. 

>>Read "Coal Miners and the Green Agenda"

The Toxic 100 Air Polluters: Fifth Edition

August 2013 -- The fifth edition of the Toxic 100 Air Polluters Index ranks corporations based on the air pollutants they release, the toxicity of those releases, and the number of people exposed. The five worst air polluters are Precision Castparts, DuPont, Biomet, the Bayer Group, and Dow Chemicals.

The Index also includes information on the risks from air toxics for minorities and low-income communities, making it possible to compare corporations in terms of environmental justice impact as well as overall pollution. As project co-director Michael Ash explains, “Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air.”

>> Go to the Toxic 100 Air Polluters page

The Greenhouse 100: Corporate Greenhouse Gas Polluters

June 2013 -- The Greenhouse 100 index is the first ranking of U.S. industrial polluters on the basis of emissions of gases responsible for climate change. Topping the list are three power companies: American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and Southern Company. Each emits over 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually; together they are responsible for more than five percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Project Directors James Boyce and Michael Ash calculated the percentages of low-income and minority populations living within ten miles of each facility. These indicate the extent to which the toxic co-pollutants that are produced along with greenhouse gases disproportionately impact these groups.

>> Go to the Greenhouse 100 Index

The Toxic 100 Water Polluters: Electric Utilities Top the List

May 2013 -- With the Toxic 100 Water Polluters Index, James Boyce and Michael Ash offer the first systematic listing of top water polluters in the United States. The Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, the Ferro Corporation, American Electric Power, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Southern Company top the list of polluters. The accompanying report, "A Toxic Flood,” looks at what the worst polluters are dumping and who is most affected. The index is based on releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the U.S., and takes into account not only the quantity of chemicals released, but also their toxicity.

>> Go to the Toxic 100 Water Polluters homepage
>> Download "A Toxic Flood: The United States Needs Stronger Regulations to Protect Public Health From Industrial Water Pollution"

The Impact of Energy-Related Stimulus Program Efforts

December 2013 -- Sanya Carley and Martin Hyman examine energy-related American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program implementation between 2009 and 2013, including how funds were allocated and disbursed, which programs were targeted, and their impacts. They find that the Recovery Act provided many immediate benefits to the economy and environment, but also argue that implementation was hindered by several factors such as coordination between federal, state, and local agencies; reporting and transparency requirements; pre-existing layoffs and furloughs; inexperience with new programs; and inconsistencies with pre-existing laws and regulations.

>> Download “The ‘Grand Experiment’: An early review of energy-related Recovery Act efforts”

Revisiting the Myth of the Environment Versus the Economy

September 2012 -- In recent years, support for the green investment agenda has eroded substantially, while the position that we can protect the environment or expand jobs, but can’t do both at once, has regained traction. Three main factors drive this reversal: the view that the 2009 green stimulus failed to deliver its promised jobs; an increasing perception that renewable energy is impractical; and the potential for cheap oil and gas from Northern Alberta and fracking technology. Robert Pollin addresses these issues, and spells out how a clean-energy agenda can still simultaneously promote a healthy environment and a strong economy.

>> Download “Getting Real on Jobs and the Environment: Pipelines, Fracking, or Clean Energy?”

The Benefits of Setting Limits on Non-Carbon Emissions

James Boyce and Manuel Pastor make the case for extending climate change policy beyond greenhouse gases, to consider the air quality benefits of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. They find that the same industrial facilities that emit large amounts of carbon often emit other harmful pollutants that impact the health of nearby residents. Since these facilities are often located in or near low-income and minority communities, bringing these “co-pollutants” into a climate policy would promote environmental equity as well as economic efficiency, yielding benefits that could be comparable those of carbon reduction itself.

>> Download “Cooling the Planet, Clearing the Air: Climate Policy, Carbon Pricing, and Co-Benefits”

The Broad Benefits of Building Retrofits

March 2012 -- As part of efforts to reduce urban emissions, many cities and states are now requiring building owners and operators to disclose building energy performance. Such policies are expected to expand significantly in the coming years. In this study, produced with the Institute for Market Transformation, Heidi Garrett-Peltier analyzes the broader impact of these policies. She finds that they have the potential to create more than 23,000 new jobs in 2015 and more than 59,000 in 2020, along with significant savings in costs and energy consumption.

>> Download “Analysis of Job Creation and Energy Cost Savings from Building Energy Rating and Disclosure Policy”

The E.P.A.: A Phantom Menace

August 2011 -- Heidi Garrett-Peltier's column for Dollars & Sense explores the economic impact of pending E.P.A. air quality regulations.

>> Download "The E.P.A.: A Phantom Menace"

The False Dichotomy of Environmentalism

August 2011 -- James K. Boyce describes how a false dichotomy between humans versus nature threatens environmental progress.

>> Read "Environmentalism's Original Sin"

Creating Jobs through Better Buildings

June 2011 -- In this research brief, Heidi Garrett-Peltier estimates the employment impacts of President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative: a set of tax code changes, lending programs, and a competitive grant program, designed to incentivize private investment in energy-efficiency upgrades to commercial buildings. She finds that through combined public and private investments, over 114,000 jobs can be created through the Initiative. This brief presents the tables and methodology used to derive this employment estimate.

>> Download “Employment Estimates for Energy Efficiency Retrofits of Commercial Buildings"

A Plan for a Sustainable U.S. Chemical Industry

May 2011 -- In this report examining the U.S. chemical industry, James Heintz and Robert Pollin show that a shift to the production of chemicals that are safer for workers, the environment, and our health can create jobs and new markets. The industry has shed 300,000 jobs since 1992, and has under-invested in research and development. These job losses, and their continuation under the status quo, are not inevitable. The study finds that shifting the chemical industry towards greater disclosure, appropriate regulation (such as reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act), and long-run sustainability would encourage innovation, support competitiveness, and renew American manufacturing jobs.

>> Download "The Economic Benefits of a Green Chemical Industry in the United States: Renewing Manufacturing Jobs While Protecting Health and the Environment"
>> Download the press release, summary, PowerPoint presentation, or webinar

The Pillars of Successful Climate Policy

May 2011 -- James K. Boyce outlines four pillars of a successful climate policy: action, adaptation, co-benefits, and dividends.

>> Read "The Climate Justice Imperative"

The Fair Sharing of Our Environmental Heritage

February 2011 -- James K. Boyce's acceptance speech for the Common Heritage Award explores the meaning of an environment that belongs in common and equal measure to all.

>> Read "The Environment as Our Common Heritage"

Regulating Airborne Emissions: Creating Jobs & Cleaner Energy

February 2011 --  In this study commissioned by Ceres, James Heintz, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Ben Zipperer examine the economic impacts of air pollution regulations forthcoming from the Environmental Protection Agency: the Clean Air Transport Rule governing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Utility Boilers rule, which will set limits for hazardous air pollutants. Focusing on 36 states, the study assesses the potential employment impacts of the transformation of the nation’s energy generation plants to a cleaner, more efficient fleet, through investments in pollution controls and the retirement of outdated plants. 

>> Download “New Jobs — Cleaner Air: Employment Effects Under Planned Changes to the EPA’s Air Pollution Rules”
>> Read the media coverage of the study

The Perverse Incentives of Cap-and-Trade

December 2010 -- James K. Boyce describes how "cap-and-giveaway-and-trade" has established perverse incentives and allowed polluters to appropriation our air and water. 
 >> Read "Stop Free Pollution: Going Beyond Cap and Trade"

Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks?

July 2010 -- Michael Ash, James Boyce, Grace Chang and Helen Scharber examine how exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial facilities in the U.S. varies according to race, ethnicity, income and other factors. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project, the authors find that, in keeping with prior research, within any given urban area, racial and ethnic minorities tend to face greater exposure to these toxins. But they go on to find that the extent of the disparity of exposure in an urban area is positively correlated with levels of exposure: when wide racial and ethnic disparities in exposure levels are found, average exposures tend to be higher not only for minorities but for whites as well.

>> Download "Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks?

The Economic Impacts of the CLEAR Act

March 2010 -- Congress is expected to take up the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act in the coming months. In preparation for that debate, James K. Boyce and Matthew E. Riddle have updated earlier analyses of the household-level impacts of the cap-and-dividend plan, and how these differ among states. In their newest paper, the authors not only consider the specific parameters of the CLEAR Act, but also add an assessment of the state-by-state job creation from the bill.

Boyce & Riddle find that interstate differences in the bill’s impact on household incomes are small: much smaller than differences across the income spectrum, and vastly smaller than the differences in other federal programs, such as defense spending. As a result, the CLEAR Act delivers positive net benefits to the majority of households  in every state. Where there are interstate differences, Boyce & Riddle suggest ways in which the CLEAR Act could be modified to reduce or eliminate them altogether.

>> Download "Clear Economics: State-Level Impacts of the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act  on Family Incomes and Jobs"

The Toxic 100: Who Are the Worst Air Polluters in the U.S.?

March 2010 -- The Toxic 100 Air Polluters index identifies the top U.S. air polluters among the world's largest corporations. The index relies on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Screening Environmental Indicators, which assesses the chronic human health risk from industrial toxic releases.

In this third release of the index, for the first time the project directors, James K. Boyce & Michael Ash, have included information on the disproportionate risk burden from industrial air toxics for minorities and low-income communities. This makes it possible to compare corporations and facilities in terms of their environmental justice performance as well as their overall contribution to chronic
human health risk.

>> Go to the Toxic 100 Air Polluters website

Green Prosperity: How Clean-Energy Policies Can Fight Poverty and Raise Living Standards in the United States

June 2009 -- “Green Prosperity: How Clean-Energy Policies Can Fight Poverty and Raise Living Standards in the United States,” by Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier (co-commissioned by Natural Resources Defense Council and Green For All), considers the employment and other policy effects of a $150 billion annual investment in clean energy (from a combination of public and private sources) in terms of its ability to raise living standards for lower-income workers and families. This report shows that investments in clean energy can benefit lower-income families first by expanding job opportunities, and also by lowering household utility bills through energy efficiency investments and transportation costs by making public transportation more accessible.

Together with the co-released report "Economic Benefits," (above) these reports significantly strengthen our understanding of how a transition to a clean-energy economy can play a major part in lifting the U.S. out of the current recession, and setting us on a course towards both environmental sustainability and raising living standards, especially for lower-income workers and their families.

>> Read more about “Green Prosperity"

The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy

June 2009 -- “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy: How the Economic Stimulus Program and New Legislation Can Boost U.S. Economic Growth and Employment,” by Robert Pollin, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, (commissioned by the Center for American Progress) assesses the cumulative economic impact of the clean-energy aspects of the American Clean Energy and Security Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and estimates the employment effects of the $150 billion in annual public and especially private clean-energy investment they are likely to encourage. The study also considers the potential impact of these policy initiatives on long-term economic growth, and assesses the range of models which have been used to estimate the economic impact of cap-and-trade legislation.

"Economic Benefits" includes fact sheets for each of the fifty states which show the specific clean-energy investment level likely to occur in that state, and estimate the statewide macroeconomic impacts of that investment.

>> Download “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy"

Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy

September 2008 -- In this major report produced with the Center for American Progress, PERI economists examine the benefits of a rapid program of private and public investments in clean energy. Green Recovery – A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy, models the impact of a $100 billion government-financed program that would combine tax credits and loan guarantees for private businesses with direct public investment spending. The authors, Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz and Helen Scharber, estimate that this combination of private and public investments aimed at jumpstarting a low-carbon economy would create two million jobs throughout the country over a two-year period. This short-term stimulus program is the first of a two-stage collaboration. Later this fall, PERI and CAP will publish a long-term economic program built on renewable energy and efficiency.

>> Read more about Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy

Job Opportunities for the Green Economy: A State-by-State Picture of Occupations that Gain from Green Investments

June 2008 -- In this report, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and  coalition of environmental and labor organizations, PERI Co-Director Robert Pollin and Assistant Research Professor Jeannette Wicks-Lim provide a snapshot of the kinds of jobs are needed to build a green economy in the United States. They focus on six key strategies for attacking global warming and highlight some of the major “green jobs” associated with each of these approaches.

>> Read more about Job Opportunities for the Green Economy

For earlier PERI research on Environmental and Energy Economics, please go to the program archive page.