Selected Policy Research and Analysis Projects:

Three Essays in Transportation Energy and Environmental Policy, Doctoral Dissertation, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation. Concerns about climate change, dependence on oil, and unstable gasoline prices have led to significant efforts by policymakers to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and oil consumption. Within the transportation sector, light-duty vehicles (LDVs) are responsible for more than 65 percent of oil consumption and more than 60 percent of total GHG emissions, so meaningful reductions in oil consumption and GHG emissions can be achieved if a significant fraction the LDV fleet is replaced by more fuel-efficient technologies. This dissertation, consisting of three essays, investigates the potential benefits and impacts of deploying more fuel-efficient vehicles in the LDV fleet. The first essay uses data on 2003- and 2006-model gasoline-powered passenger cars, light trucks, and sport utility vehicles to investigate the implicit private cost of improving vehicle fuel efficiencies by reducing other desired attributes, such as horsepower. The second essay estimates the private benefits and societal impacts of electric vehicles, which have implications for efforts to incentivize the purchase and production of these vehicles. The third essay explores the implications of a large-scale adoption of electric vehicles, explaining that, although such an adoption is desirable with respect to goals for achieving energy security and environmental improvement, the decline in fuel tax revenues that would result has adverse implications for the current system of transportation finance. Read more.

Relevant features: energy and environmental policy analysis, policy research, descriptive and exploratory data analysis, triple-bottom-line benefit-cost analysis, transportation finance, sustainability

Hybrid-Electric Vehicles and Implications for Transportation Finance, Sara Haji Amiri and Martin Wachs, 2010, Journal of Public Works Management and Policy. Fuel efficiency improvements in the U.S. vehicle fleet are slowing growth in gasoline consumption. Although this is desirable with respect to goals for achieving energy security and environmental improvement, it has adverse implications for the current system of transportation finance. Reductions in gasoline consumption relative to the amount of driving that takes place result in reductions in fuel tax revenues that fund transportation projects. The authors estimate the magnitude of the forgone tax revenue when a hybrid electric vehicle displaces a similar-sized conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. The authors find that under several vehicle electrification scenarios, the combined federal and state trust fund contributions could decline by as much as 5% because of new hybrid electric cars to be sold in 2020, and as much as 12.5% because of those to be sold in 2030. Alternative fee systems more directly tied to the use of the transportation system rather than to fuel consumption should be considered, which could reconcile energy security, environmental, and transportation finance goals. Read more. 

Relevant features: energy and environmental policy analysis, policy research, transportation finance, sustainability

Estimating the value of water-use efficiency in the Intermountain West, David G. Groves, James Griffin and Sara Haji Amiri, 2008,
Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation. Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of water-efficiency programs can be difficult, because not all the benefits are easily quantified. This report presents an economic framework based on two tools from the California Urban Water Conservation Council to estimate the avoided costs and environmental benefits of an agency’s efficiency programs. The report evaluates the benefits of Denver Water efficiency programs and uses an exploratory modeling approach to accommodate the significant uncertainty in such estimations. The results of this study suggest that the inclusion of long-run avoided costs and environmental benefits is critical to fully recognizing the value of water-use efficiency programs. The authors find that evaluating only the short-run avoided costs leads to the conclusion that many water-efficiency projects already a part of Denver Water’s 10-year conservation plan are not cost-effective. When long-run avoided costs and environmental and recreational benefits were factored in, all but two Denver Water programs were estimated to be cost-effective. The timing of projected water savings from efficiency programs is also critical. Water savings from programs that concentrate savings during summer months, when water is scarcer, should be valued higher than saving from programs that lead to more uniform water savings throughout the year, because these water savings reduce peak water needs. Read more.

Relevant features: energy, environmental and water policy analysis, policy research, scenario analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis

Suppose the USA Had REACH: ramifications for formaldehyde, Sara Haji Amiri, Myles T. Collins and John D. Graham, 2010, Journal of Risk Research. The Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation for regulating chemicals came into force in the EU in June 2007. This framework is stricter and more precautionary than its counterpart in the USA -- the Toxic Substances Control Act -- in that it requires data submissions for not only new but existing chemicals as well. This study evaluates the REACH process by assuming that the program exists in the USA and by taking formaldehyde, which is widely used yet toxic at certain doses, through the steps of REACH. We find that the attractive features of REACH are that it shifts more of the technical burdens of regulation to industry and that it may stimulate competitive pressures for safer, 'greener' products. Downsides include technical ambiguities in the analytical guidance, a potential for creating large amounts of paperwork, and perhaps a small risk reduction relative to the costs of the legislation. We recommend additional case studies with other existing chemicals to obtain a fuller picture of the potential ramifications of REACH-like legislation in the USA. Read more.

Relevant features: environmental policy analysis, policy research, benefit-cost analysis

Quantifying Well-Being Values of Environmental Flows for Equitable Decision-Making: A case study of the Hamoun wetlands in Iran, K.S. Meijer and Haji Amiri, S. 2007, International Journal of River Basin Management. Construction of dams and reservoirs affects various groups of people. People who are often the losers from construction and operation of dams are the users of downstream ecosystems. To consider the needs of these people in water resources decision‐making, the relationships among water, ecosystem and human well‐being need to be assessed. This should lead to quantified criteria scores to support the decision‐maker. Current environmental flow assessment methods focus on the relationship between water and ecosystems, but leave a gap where quantifiable criteria on human well‐being are concerned. This paper discusses an approach for quantifying the effect of changed flow regimes on human well‐being in an Integrated Water Resources Management study in Iran. The study shows the different effects on different groups of people, and in this way contributes to the consideration of social equity in decision‐making in Integrated Water Resources Management. Read more. 

Relevant features: integrated water resources management, field-researched case study