Sophomore Seminars

Environmental Regulation and Policy


Is our system of environmental regulation subject to the whims of politics? How does the President impact environmental policy? What role do states and the judicial branch play? What is the role of science? How does the public influence the system? In this seminar, you will learn how environmental policy and regulation has changed and endured over its 40-plus year history. You will learn how the public, the media and non-governmental organizations (e.g., Sierra Club, Greenpeace, etc.) can impact environmental policy, and how science is used (and abused) in policy creation. You will learn how the proliferation of data is changing the way we regulate and communicate about the environment. You will be introduced to policy issues such as the precautionary principle, the cost-effectiveness of regulation, and the balance of stakeholder interests. You will learn how different administrations have tried (and sometimes failed) to remold the Environmental Protection Agency and how this is playing out in real-time with issues from the front pages. We will examine the use of mathematical modeling in environmental policy. The semester starts with short student presentations on environmental issues of concern to you, which will serve as a basis for our class topics. You will learn the necessary skills to understand where facts stop, and bias begins in the media and in technical reports. While we emphasize environmental policies of the United States, we will also compare and contrast these policies with those in the European Union, China, and some developing nations, and show how the United States is ahead in some areas, and behind in others. We will address questions concerning the proper use of science and engineering as well as technical literacy in the public. You will use scientific methods to learn how science is used in environmental regulation. Class discussions may fundamentally change how you think about environmental regulation and experience the news about environmental issues.  It will also offer you concrete approaches to effect change.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Shari Libicki

Shari Libicki

"I received my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford. My interest in applying science to environmental policy was sparked when I served as a fellow for the U.S. State Department, negotiating international science treaties. During my tenure with the State Department, the Montreal Protocol, the first successful use of international cooperation to solve a global environmental issue, was signed. Since then, I have worked at Ramboll, an international consulting firm focusing on sustainable solutions. I am researching the use of microsensor data to better understand air quality and provide information to the public on a real-time basis. I am passionate about helping a broad audience understand the science that they need to formulate effective environmental policy, and to help scientists understand how to impact public policy."