Environmental Economics Program Focal Areas

Economic Modeling of Energy Policy, Technology

To address a wide range of energy problems the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and its colleagues has developed several models that operate at different geographic, sectoral, and temporal scales. We have developed, or have access to via strategic alliances with other research institutions, a complementary suite of integrated models that include: a model of the U.S. national energy system, a dispatch model of the U.S. electric power system, a plant-level decision model for resource planning of electric power plants, a southern U.S. forest resource model for bioenergy resource analysis, spatial models for siting pipelines for carbon capture and storage, and a national model of the U.S. forest and agricultural sectors. 

Western Water Management

Through a portfolio of strategic collaborations with other organizations, the Nicholas Institute continues to provide leadership on improving the sustainability of water resource management in the United States. In the western United States, we are improving water resource management in Nevada by designing and pilot testing a blueprint for “unbundling” water rights—that is, reforming the prior appropriation system so that shares in water rights can be easily traded, including with environmental stakeholders, and so that water resources can be managed sustainably for the benefit of all rights holders and the environment. 

Coastal Blue Carbon

Coastal habitats are under increasing threat of destruction. These habitats store large amounts of carbon in their vegetation and soil; when disturbed, this stored carbon—known as coastal blue carbon—can be released in the form of greenhouse gases. Research at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions examines the economic and scientific challenges that need to be addressed to determine whether payments for blue carbon may one day help conserve mangroves, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes.

Improving Endangered Species Management

Nationwide, several hundred species are being evaluated for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Research at the Nicholas Institute is exploring whether effective pre-compliance could be the key to recovery for a number of species while demonstrating the promise of multi-species management.

Sustainable Forestry, Agriculture and Land Use

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions informs farmers and other landowners of policies and practices that address greenhouse gas emissions reduction, water quality management, and endangered species protection more cost effectively. The Nicholas Institute’s work includes the design of incentive payment programs to induce environmental improvements to economic modeling of responses at the landscape to global level.  

Economic and Environmental Consequences of Bioenergy

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions is a respected voice—advising industry, government and NGOs on the likely implications of expanded by energy markets—in the often-contentious area of biomass energy production (particularly in the Southeast). Work by the Nicholas Institute has greatly increased awareness of the greenhouse gas implications of bioenergy use and has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and members of the Scientific Advisory Board on Biogenic Accounting as a key example of the type of research necessary to develop workable approaches to track bioenergy carbon emissions.

Future of the Electricity Sector

The electricity sector is in a period of rapid change driven by a host of economic and regulatory factors—including historically low natural gas prices, dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable energy, and new and evolving environmental regulations. As a result, the sector is simultaneously grappling with coal plant retirements; the possibility of upcoming nuclear plant retirements; increased exposure to natural gas price volatility; maintaining diversity in the generation mix; integrating intermittent and distributed resources; and complying with a host of environmental rules. Responses to these dynamics will affect carbon dioxide emissions, public health, and energy prices for years to come. Work by the Nicholas Institute focuses on how the legal and regulatory landscape governing the electricity sector must adapt to this dynamic environment and how investments made to respond to these changes will influence environmental and economic outcomes in 2050.