Author: Doug Gavel
CAMBRIDGE MA. – John Graham, dean emeritus and professor at the Paul O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB), offered his thoughts on regulatory impact analysis, federal energy policy, domestic climate policy, and electric vehicles 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 transcript 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.
Graham, who earlier in his career founded the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis while serving on the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and then spent five years heading OIRA in the George W. Bush Administration, spoke of his early experiences in the White House, where he and his team had to make the case to the president to increase the stringency of federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards at a time when the vice president was opposed.
“We had to actually go into the Oval Office and make our case to President Bush. And when I did so, it was apparent that the president and the vice president were not totally on the same page on this issue, but we were able to persuade the president to move forward and we did so, and now it's a very important part of the program that the federal government has on fuel economy and on carbon dioxide control,” he said.
Graham, whose Ph.D. dissertation was on the topic of automobile airbag technology, also discussed his new book, “The Global Rise of the Modern Plug-In Electric Vehicle: Public Policy, Innovation, and Strategy,” which outlines the significant ways in which the wide use of electric vehicles will influence our daily lives, economies, urban air quality, and global climate change.
“When I was working for George W. Bush, we were very convinced that the electric vehicle was not a very cost-effective technology, and we resisted strongly California's efforts to mandate so-called zero-emission vehicles, and they really had in mind electric cars,” Graham explained. “But what has happened is the spillover of lithium-ion battery technology from consumer applications to the auto industry, [and the extent to which it] is now creating enormous excitement and innovation in the auto sector, and that's the stimulation for the book.”
Graham predicted that electric vehicles will play a significant role in the future of transportation.
“The transition from the internal combustion engine to electric propulsion is in fact underway and irreversible seeds have been set to make this happen. However, the pace of the transition is going to move at very different rates in different parts of the world, and a lot of this depends as much on politics as it does on markets,” he said.
Graham explained that Norway is leading the world with electric vehicles, making up 80 percent of the nation’s new car fleet. That compares to ten percent in Germany and the UK, and approximately three percent in the United States. Production in the US will grow, Graham argued, once appropriate government policies are in place.
“This is one of these cases I find it fascinating where the industrial policy strategies, which many Western economists regard as in disrepute… are in fact the standard approach to making a big change in an industry like this, and I think that's what's going to have to happen. Now the details about whether the Biden Administration gets it right, it's far too early to judge,” he said.
Graham’s interview is the 5th episode during 2021 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.”