I try to make my research policy relevant and directly useful to policy-makers. Below are some projects that have made it into the real world.
Using existing U.S. law to manage nitrogen pollution
In early 2017, I published an article with co-authors from Columbia, Tufts, the University of Virginia, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) on what existing laws in the U.S. could be used to manage nitrous oxide – the third most important greenhouse gas and the largest remaining threat to the ozone layer. Because of the unique chemistry of the nitrogen cycle, reducing nitrous oxide emissions could reduce other forms of nitrogen pollution as well, such as nitrate run-off, and ammonia and nitrogen oxide emissions. Each of these forms of nitrogen pollutions come under the purview of a different piece of environmental legislation, which opens up a number of possible legal pathways to explore. In addition to the legal analysis, we also estimated what the environmental and economic implications would be of implementing these legal options to their full potential.
Our article got picked up by Earth Justice, an environmental law NGO, which used it as the basis for a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that it take a closer look at regulating nitrous oxide. While the current administration is not exactly a friend of the environment, legal strategies like this one are a key tool in bringing previously overlooked environmental threats to the government’s attention and forcing them to take action. I’ll post updates on this as they come in.
Controlling nitrous oxide under the international ozone treaty
As I mentioned above, nitrous oxide is an important greenhouse gas and ozone depleting substance. It is currently controlled under the international climate regime, which was recently plunged into uncertainty with President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. However, because nitrous oxide is also an ozone depleting substance, it could be taken on by the international ozone regime. This regime includes the 1987 Montreal Protocol, widely agreed to be the most successful international environmental agreement ever, having reducing the production and consumption of 97 ozone depleting substances by 98%.
In 2013, I published an article with co-authors from Princeton, Tufts, the University of Virginia and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) outlining the scientific and legal case for transferring nitrous oxide under the control of the international ozone regime. Since then, I’ve organized several events at Montreal Protocol meetings to raise awareness among country delegates and other stakeholders; the idea was picked up by the United Nations Environment Program, which led to a report on nitrous oxide that I co-authored; and I’ve worked with several organizations, including the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Industrial Development Organizations on projects to demonstrate the viability of nitrous oxide emissions reductions across different sectors.
International nitrogen initiative
In August 2018, I was elected Vice-Chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative - the key interlocutor between the science and policy communities on nitrogen pollution. Since its inception INI has been a vital hub for nitrogen scientists and policymakers to exchange ideas, stimulate new research, and engage with the policy world. Looking ahead, I am excited to improve the representation of the social sciences in this initiative, to organize parallel policy workshops at the triennial conferences, and to solidify INI’s presence at important international and regional environmental negotiations. In a post-Trump world the most politically viable environmental actions will likely be ones that produce local benefits as great, if not greater, than those achieved internationally – and the local (water, air) benefits of addressing nitrogen pollution tend to dwarf the international (climate, ozone) ones in economic terms.