University of Maryland Extension

From UMD to The White House: Terps Shaping U.S. Environmental Policy

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When Jia Li earned her PhD from the top-ranked Agricultural and Resource Economics program at the University of Maryland in 2011, she knew her education and training would take her places. However, she didn’t expect one of those places would turn out to be the White House.

In February, Li (pictured left) will start a one-year detail with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Established in 1969 as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, the CEQ is charged with developing national policies to recommend to the President that will help improve environmental quality and conservation efforts while balancing the social, economic and health impacts those policies will have on the public. “I never thought I would be involved in the center of everything,” says Li, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an economist in the climate change field.

Li won’t be the first graduate of UMD’s Agricultural and Resource Economics (AREC) Department to work on this prestigious council. In fact, she’s the third AREC alum to be put on detail for the CEQ in just the last four years.

Historically, members of the CEQ didn’t include an economist until 2009 when the Council tapped Heather Klemick (pictured right), who received her PhD from AREC in 2007, to share her economic expertise as part of the climate and energy team. At the time, Congress was attempting to pass a national cap and trade policy, which would have provided incentives for reducing emissions that contribute to pollution. “It was very interesting to see that process play out and what went on in the White House during that discussion on Capitol Hill,” says Klemick, who works for the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE) in Washington, D.C. “It was a really cool opportunity to get involved in the heart of policy making but still bring an analytical background.”

Ever since Klemick finished her detail with the CEQ in May of 2010, economists have become an integral part of the Council. “It’s sort of becoming a rotating spot where they saw the value of having an economist on the team and now have been trying to recruit an economist,” Klemick explains.

Glenn Sheriff (pictured left) is a 2004 graduate of the AREC department who works with Klemick at the EPA’s NCEE. He served on the White House CEQ from July 2011 until August 2012 where he dedicated much of his time to dealing with issues related to the Clean Air Act.  “It was fun,” says Sheriff. “You get a view of the policy making process as opposed to the way it works on paper that most people don’t get a chance to see. For me it was a big educational experience.”

When Li begins her post at the White House, she expects a portion of the discussions she will be involved in to be centered on current and future effects of climate change. “Climate change is a really big issue now. As a society as a whole we need to have a better understanding of the impact and damages of climate change and the benefits of taking actions,” she says.

Although members of the CEQ don’t typically interact directly with the President, AREC alums who have had the honor of serving on the council say the chance to help shape the future of environmental policy in the U.S. is thrill enough.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm hoping this will be a productive period of time,” says Li.

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