To be successful, the Biden-Harris Administration’s evidence-based policymaking push must engage both technocrats and impacted communities.
Last Wednesday was Climate Day at the White House. President Biden, alongside his experienced team of climate policy advisors, delivered remarks linking his climate change policies to jobs, innovation, cleaner communities, environmental justice and national security. He also committed to restore trust in government by issuing a memorandum that directs all federal agencies to put scientific integrity and evidence at the core of their policymaking.
It’s an exciting about-face from the last four years during which science was denied and evidence was ignored. This led to the gutting of the Clean Power Plan and Mercury and Toxics Standards and putting the brakes on fuel economy standards. Now the federal government needs to put evidence-based policymaking into standard practice.
The Biden memo is just the beginning of a process that will take several years to put into action. The Office of Management and Budget and each agency now need to follow the memo’s directives by developing evidence-building plans and annual evaluation plans. To succeed they will need the budget and tools to build their internal capabilities and to engage with outside experts and communities to bring forward new evidence.
Unused and Missing Evidence
Unless you believe in alternative facts, it’s hard to argue with evidence-based policymaking, but what does it mean in practice? Of course, it means having a sound basis for rolling out a policy. But it also means implementing a policy in a way that supports evaluation, collecting data during and after implementation, analyzing the data, and then expanding, improving or eliminating the policy, based on the analysis. This iterative process, emphasized in the Biden memo, is often missing for even the most well-intentioned policies.
In some cases evidence is already waiting in the wings for policymakers to act upon. There are a number of examples from research here at the Energy Institute: a recent study finding the costs of cutting pollution under a Clean Air Act program are far less than the benefits, suggesting standards should be tightened; a study showing shortcomings of the low income weatherization assistance program and calling for improvements; and a study demonstrating that residential customers embraced a pricing program designed to increase grid reliability that was linked to federal stimulus funding.
In many more cases, however, evidence is missing. Recent reports from California’s Legislative Analyst Office, for example, have found that the state’s robust set of climate change policies have not been coupled with robust evaluations. The federal government needs to help fill these gaps at the federal level, and also at the state and local levels where much energy and climate change policymaking occurs. The federal government could support efforts such as Pew’s Results First Initiative, which helps states learn from each other and share best practices for evidence-based policy development.
Building capacity within government and engaging with outside evaluation experts will be important, but for one of Biden’s biggest priorities, environmental justice, communities themselves need to be empowered to produce and share evidence.
Environmental justice challenges can be very local in nature. Community members have direct experience with pollution and its impacts, but they have not historically had the resources or access to successfully advocate for solutions. In the case of some communities, including indigenous and African-Americans, some may be rightly distrustful of outside researchers. The federal government should follow the efforts of California’s Assembly Bill 617 and directly fund community-based non-governmental organizations to engage communities to directly collect evidence, as discussed in a recent paper by Meredith Fowlie, Reed Walker and David Wooley. Michael Regan, the EPA’s new administrator, should take this on.
The federal government’s renewed commitment to evidence-based policy is a breath of fresh air. The next step is to fulfill the commitment with careful implementation, strong funding, and partnerships with independent researchers and communities to produce and analyze the evidence.
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Suggested citation: Campbell, Andrew. “Committing to Evidence-Based Policymaking” Energy Institute Blog, UC Berkeley, February 2, 2021, https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2021/02/01/committing-to-evidence-based-policymaking/
Andrew Campbell is the Executive Director of the Energy Institute at Haas. Andy has worked in the energy industry for his entire professional career. Prior to coming to the University of California, Andy worked for energy efficiency and demand response company, Tendril, and grid management technology provider, Sentient Energy. He helped both companies navigate the complex energy regulatory environment and tailor their sales and marketing approaches to meet the utility industry’s needs. Previously, he was Senior Energy Advisor to Commissioner Rachelle Chong and Commissioner Nancy Ryan at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). While at the CPUC Andy was the lead advisor in areas including demand response, rate design, grid modernization, and electric vehicles. Andy led successful efforts to develop and adopt policies on Smart Grid investment and data access, regulatory authority over electric vehicle charging, demand response, dynamic pricing for utilities and natural gas quality standards for liquefied natural gas. Andy has also worked in Citigroup’s Global Energy Group and as a reservoir engineer with ExxonMobil. Andy earned a Master in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and bachelors degrees in chemical engineering and economics from Rice University.