CAMBRIDGE MA. – Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reflects on his many years working on environmental policy in public service and academia in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here. A full transcript of the interview is available here.
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Schmalensee’s research and teaching have spanned several areas of application of industrial organization, including antitrust, regulatory, energy and environmental policies. He served as Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management for 10 years and director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research for 12 years. He also served as a member of the White House Counsel of Economic Advisors from 1989-1991, at a time when the George H.W. Bush Administration developed and then worked with Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
“I really enjoyed the sense of being close to decision making, not being political, but being close enough and having enough connections that on things I cared about and knew something about,” Schmalensee said of his years in Washington. “I was, in the words of Hamilton, ‘in the room’ when it happened fairly often. It didn't always go my way, but I had the feeling I was making a difference.”
Following his tenure at the White House, Schmalensee served on the Environmental Economics Advisory Committee at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and later on the National Climate Assessment Development & Advisory Committee.
In response to a question about US energy policy, Schmalensee was blunt, responding, “I don't think there is a US energy policy. I think at the federal level, you have this sort of incoherent support for fossil fuels and the rollback of efficiency standards. I think in some states – California, Massachusetts, New York – there is a shift toward renewables. Rhode Island wants to have a power system that's a 100% decarbonized by 2030. Impossible, but ambitious. So, really, we do not have an energy policy; we have a bunch of different policies.”
Schmalensee termed current US climate change policies “a disaster,” saying it was a mistake “walking away from Paris, walking away from any sense that it's important that we deal with our emissions and indeed walking away from the potential federal role in helping states and localities adapt to change.”
Schmalensee’s interview is the 11th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”