You don't buy and sell the environment, says Joseph Herriges, professor of environmental economics. But understanding the value of the environment is essential for designing policy to protect it.
January 11, 2016
“You don’t buy and sell the environment,” says Joseph Herriges, professor of environmental economics. But understanding the value of the environment is essential for designing policy to protect it. Herriges’ research centers on using econometric tools to infer values of environmental resources.
He does environmental valuation well, at least according to the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE), which named him Fellow in the summer of 2014, just after he moved to MSU to take a position that is divided between the departments of Economics and Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE). He brought with him dynamic experience in the field, an eye for detail, and a profound investment in his work and the work of his colleagues.
One prominent example of Herriges’ research into economic valuation of environmental resources is his work on the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project. Over the course of four years while he was at Iowa State University, Herriges and his colleagues collected data from 6,000 households about where they went to recreate to see how far people would travel for lakes with good water quality.
“We were able to show that water quality mattered,” Herriges said. “People did travel great distances within the state to go to places that were nice versus places that weren’t so nice.”
On the basis of the team’s initial reports, the Iowa legislature passed a substantial increase in the budget for cleaning up the water in lakes.
“When policymakers are trying to come up with a policy, they know what the costs are of a policy, but they don’t necessarily know what the benefits are,” Herriges said. His work gives them a number with a sound empirical basis in people’s behavior.
Herriges considers himself an applied econometrician whose application is environmental economics. Though he did not start in environmental economics, his status as AERE fellow testifies to his contributions. After years as managing editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management while it was managed by AERE, he continued as a co-editor of AERE’s new journal, the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (JAERE). He has also served as associate editor of Environmental and Resource Economics.
As a professor, Joe Herriges’ impact extends beyond the classroom.
“Several of his graduate students have gone on to be very prominent members of our profession and hold full professorships at other institutions,” says Frank Lupi, professor of environmental and natural resource economics.
For example, Herriges mentored Dan Phaneuf, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and editor of JAERE. Phaneuf remembers grappling with a problem in his dissertation for months until focusing on it one day with Herriges.
“I remember that as the day the whole future opened up,” Phaneuf said. That moment was essential to the dissertation’s success, he said, which ultimately led him to where he is today.
“What I really appreciate about working with Joe is how diligent he is,” Phaneuf said. “He never considers moving forward unless he understands every single moving part.”
Herriges began his career outside of academia, consulting for the electric power industry. For 10 years, he designed and evaluated rate structures and conservation programs that encouraged individuals to reduce their power usage.
With that background in industrial applications of economic incentives, Herriges returned to academia, where he began focusing on econometrics and applied economics. As he grew professionally, he added environmental economics to his repertoire. He worked for 26 years at Iowa State University, and for much of that time focused on nonmarket valuation.
Since coming to MSU, Herriges has been teaching econometrics and advanced environmental economics. He also started a journal article club for faculty members and students in AFRE and Economics. The club -- essentially a book club with journal articles -- meets twice a month. Herriges saw a number of students build their dissertations around articles discussed at the journal club he had started at Iowa State University and hopes the same happens here at MSU. He said it has also proven to be a good way for faculty members in both departments to stay alert to research outside of their focus.
“It’s a good way to maintain a broad exposure to what’s going on in the field without having to necessarily do it all by yourself,” said Lupi, who participates in the club.
As an extra bonus, Herriges provides a free lunch at each meeting.
“Joe is a good economist, and he understands incentives,” joked Lupi, adding, “We’re really lucky to have him here at MSU.”
Herriges has three grown sons and one grand-daughter. He enjoys photography, woodworking, outdoor activities and traveling with his wife of 33 years.