News Story

May 2, 2013
Environment@Harvard

Joseph Aldy: Energy Policy Analyst

 By Dan Morrell

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Joseph Aldy accepted a job teaching at the Kennedy School two years before he actually stepped into a classroom there. He had a good reason for the delay: a week after accepting the job in December 2008, he was asked by Lawrence H. Summers, then director of the National Economic Council, to join the incoming Obama administration.

Unable to pursue both positions simultaneously, Aldy was granted a public policy service leave before he even spent any time in residence. “In the end,” he recalls, “our dean, David Ellwood, knew the opportunity I was facing.”

Aldy’s path to Washington began with an appreciation for the natural environment cultivated among the Black Angus cows and fruit orchards of his family’s 20-acre farm outside Lexington, Kentucky. “It was a hobby farm,” says Aldy. “As my dad would put it, ‘Not enough to live on, but enough to kill you.’”

After finishing his master’s degree in environmental management at Duke, he got his first taste of the White House during the summer of 1997 while working with the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) in the Clinton administration. It was good timing: the federal budget was balanced, the unemployment rate was close to historic lows, and the GDP was doing fine—giving him and his colleagues plenty of time to develop the administration’s international climate change policy for that year’s Kyoto conference. What was supposed to have been a six-month stint at the CEA turned into three years; Aldy had “caught the climate bug,” as he puts it.

When Aldy returned to the White House to work for Summers and director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner—after an eight-year absence, which included his doctoral studies—he found a changed Capitol Hill. Whereas Clinton had faced Republican majorities in both chambers and had little hope of moving legislation, the Democratic majorities that welcomed the Obama administration allowed Aldy and his colleagues to develop a policy framework through legislation. He spent much of his time working with members of the House and Senate on bills to mitigate climate change and on the energy portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—an almost $90-billion package of clean energy, efficiency, electric grid, and transportation-related initiatives.

While Aldy is now busy with research and teaching—his energy policy analysis course is part of a University-wide graduate consortium sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment, —he maintains ties to the White House, talking shop with former colleagues, offering support on an ad-hoc basis, and even working as a campaign surrogate (he debated energy policy with Romney’s domestic policy advisor this October at MIT). He says he is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for energy policy in a second Obama term. “We lived through two years of a House of Representatives that just said ‘No.’ And the question now is, are they going to continue to do that for the next four years? Or is there a way for us to actually move forward?”

This article appeared in Environment@Harvard, Volume 5, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

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