University students present research on environmental policy at symposium

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 8:57pm

A group of University of Michigan students gathered at the Ford of School of Public Policy on Wednesday for the Energy and Environmental Policy Research symposium. They discussed their independent research projects on state and local environmental policies regarding issues such as recycling, food and energy. 

Altogether, there were three student panel sessions, which consisted of students enrolled in the Environmental Politics and Policy course. The event was sponsored by the Ford School's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Sarah Mills, the organizer of the event, is a lecturer at CLOSUP. She said the purpose of the program is to foster communication between academic researchers, stakeholders and the policymakers dealing with today's state, local and urban policy problems.

Mills explained CLOSUP provides information to policymakers, practitioners, academics, students, the media and the public. It also encourages students to apply their critical skills to engage with various policy issues they face in society.

She further explained how students can expand their research beyond the classroom setting.

“For the entire semester, these students have been developing unique research questions and executing them,” she said. “This was an opportunity for them to share that beyond the context of the classroom, to let people know all of the fantastic research that is going on with undergrads.”

During the first panel session, the students analyzed specific case studies focusing on issues such as the debate regarding the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction and California’s Net Energy Metering policy. Students discussed the chosen methods for conducting their research, in addition to the challenges they faced as they were putting their projects together.

LSA sophomore Nick Simon participated in the event as a student panelist. His independent research project focused on California’s Net Energy Metering policy.

Throughout his research, he said he focused on two specific actors within the California environment policy realm: an investor and utility group, in addition to a solar industry advocacy group known as the California Solar Energy Industries Association.

Simon analyzed how these two particular actors use their influence either politically or publicly to get their business interests into the revised tariff. He believes it is important for people to be incentivized to do further solar installations.

“Even in states where there might not be a huge environmental conscience, people can still benefit from net metering and having solar energy production in their city, their state and hopefully within the entire country at some point,” Simon said.

In the second panel session, the students used comparative work to collect their data. They analyzed how different localities address the same environmental policy and focused on food policies.

Other research topic ranged from the plastic bag policies to urbanized farmland and food policies in the Midwest. 

One of the biggest difficulties the students in this panel encountered was their inability to determine whether or not the policies were being implemented across various communities. In order to truly determine such factors, students stated they would have to physically travel to these areas, which would require a lot of time and power. In addition, students also discovered implementation costs are extremely expensive.

LSA sophomore Jacqueline Kristofik explained why her research on concentrated animal feeding operations affects not only animals but humans, as well.

“I think it’s important because I was really interested in the ethical side of animal farms,” she said. “We are poisoning the water supply, the levels of ammonia in the waste and manure is affecting local populations who live next to these (concentrated animal feeding operations) and they can’t afford to move. The homes surrounding the CAFOs are priced lower, and it really hurts the markets, so they just have to suffer the health consequences of the water supply.”