Title of Grant: Ecological and economic sustainability in water, energy, and food in Delaware’s changing coastal climate
Theme Name: Social, Economic and Policy Dimensions.
A) Status and overview. Overarching statement (2-3 lines; max five sentences)
The social, economic, and policy dimension team propose research, educational, and outreach activities that seek to solve what has be called the “last mile problem” -whereby technological “solutions” are developed that seem promising, but unless coupled with ethical guidelines, guided by insights from behavioral science, and supported with empirical data from behavioral science and user-friendly decision support tools, an effective policy solution is never developed, and “last mile” is never crossed. To support these efforts we will measure people’s attitudes and willingness to pay (WTP) for improving water, energy, and food systems in a changing climate in the State of Delaware. This research will be complemented with interdisciplinary work with natural and physical scientist to develop an estimate of the costs associated with improving the State’s water quality and protecting its coastal recreational amenities, so that policy makers and stakeholders can develop cost-effective tools and approaches to these problems.
B) Research and Education program
Measuring costs and benefits of improving water quality
Solving the “last mile problem” requires information about the costs and benefits of alternative strategies to develop more sustainable water, energy, and food systems. Survey tools and experimental approaches will be used to measure both the costs and benefits of improving water quality while creating more resilient food and energy systems.
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For example, research has identified beneficial management practices (BMPs) for urban, suburban, and agricultural landscapes that improve water quality by reducing soil and nutrient loss, but improvements will only occur if people are willing to use these BMPs. To promote adoption of beneficial practices, financial incentives are commonly offered through environmental programs funded by federal and state agencies. Distributing scarce funds cost-effectively is often a priority for these agencies, but their ability to do so is frequently limited by a lack of data about the costs and benefits of alternative pollution abatement strategies. If these data are available, low participation from landowners can still limit cost-effectiveness of these programs.
The social dimensions team will construct marginal cost curves for multiple strategies that could enhance water quality, including programs that promote the use of urban and suburban BMPs (e.g., use of green fertilizers, native grass restoration, septic tank repair) and agricultural BMPs (e.g., use of green fertilizers, cover crops, application of electro-chemical techniques to reduce nitrogen pollutions). The marginal cost curves will inform policymakers about the unit costs and total costs of abating nonpoint source pollution from lawns and farms using these practices. Results can inform policymakers about the relative cost-effectiveness of projects that improve water quality. Constructing the marginal cost curves will require data on the biophysical benefits of these practices as well as landowner willingness to use beneficial BMPs. Estimates about biophysical benefits, like the reduction of phosphorus and nitrogen export to nearby waterways, will be determined will be drawn from the literature.
The social dimensions team will build upon two novel experimental designs developed by the Center for Experimental & Applied Economics that quantifies the costs of BMP adoption and assesses landowners’ attitudes and willingness to adopt agricultural and lawn practices that can improve water quality. The Agricultural Values, Innovation and Stewardship Enhancement (AgVISE) project engages farmers in an auction in a field experiment setting that evaluates the attitudes and WTP to adopt new BMPs, such as new ‘green fertilizers’ or removal of excess nutrients through novel phosphorus filters. The Homeowner Values, Innovation and Stewardship Enhancement (HomeVISE) project engages homeowners, renters, and residents of homeowner associations in nutrient management decisions and evaluates both the adoption and the dis-adoption of technologies designed to protect water. A survey tool will be distributed through the VISE programs to identify barriers and deterrents to adoption of BMPs, such as transaction costs of participation, and to understand how environmental attitudes and beliefs affect participation in programs that offer financial incentives to promote BMP use. These VISE projects can be applied to assess a variety of technologies and educational messages in a wide range of settings throughout the state.
Since costs of pollution abatement are a function of landowner and producer preferences, the proposed research will also analyze how programs can be designed using behavioral science to increase program participation by providing people with information that may change their knowledge or perceptions of environmental challenges. This information about the environmental challenges will be drawn from the other themes of this research. We will determine if information can change the marginal cost curves of BMP programs and generate more cost-effective program outcomes by affecting people’s willingness to participation in conservation programs and the incentive payments that they require to adopt new BMPs. Research into policy or behavioral nudges that work to improve people behavior and resolve critically important problems facing the state of Delaware will have meaning from a regional, national, and international perspective.
Several economic valuation projects will be conducted as part of this proposal. These studies would provide analyses needed to improve decision making over the state’s water resources and lead to balance in policy formation. First, we propose a statewide household survey to value water quality improvements on the state’s rivers, streams, ponds, and estuaries. This would follow conventional stated preference techniques and economic modeling to elicit willingness to pay for improvements in water quality for drinking, recreation and other uses. Household would learn about water resources in the state in the survey and be asked to vote in hypothetical referenda on water quality improvements. A second project would target recreation uses of Delaware’s Inland Bays such as fishing, crabbing, boating, swimming, etc. in a revealed preference survey. We would document the extent of the different recreation use of the bays and infer values for the different uses. In addition, we model how the uses might change with water quality improvements along with economic values associated with those changes. Economic benefits will also be tested using field experiments that explore consumers’ WTP purchase foods that provide direct water quality benefits such as oysters and edible seaweed. Despite its coastal nature and history, Delaware is the only coastal state that does not have an active oyster aquaculture industry. Funding will expand recent collaborative efforts between DSU and UD researchers to foster this industry.
D) Seed Funding and emerging areas <1-2 paragraphs per theme for emerging areas/future>
Consortium on Social Dimension Research
Funding from this EPSCoR Rii4 proposal will enable the development of a novel consortium of amongst Wesley College, Delaware Technical Community College, Delaware State University, and the University of Delaware to foster undergraduate social dimension research related to this proposal’s water, energy, and food themes. The Center for Experimental & Applied Economics (CEAE) to expand its novel work in behavioral and experimental experiments to undergraduate research in this consortium via the development of a novel one-year sequence of courses that will be taught yearly at the undergraduate level in application of experimental methods. The first semester will focus on the methods and application of behavioral and experimental economics to water, energy, and food themes. Experimental methods will include randomized controlled trials (RCTs). RCTs are quickly becoming the “gold standard” of social science research and the cornerstone of evidence-based policy. The second semester will engage students in applying these methods explore to behavioral and policy issues related to water, energy, and food issues. Seed funding will be available to researchers and students to enable them to conduct initial experimental studies. Funded internships will be available for the most promising students (selected by competition) to continue their research during the subsequent summer. Seed funding is requested to build the internal research capacity of faculty at Wesley and DSU, to facilitate the coordination of undergraduate expertise, such as computer programming at DelTech, to support instruction at the University of Delaware, and to facilitate the project and develop a curriculum and partnership amongst the institutions to ensure the program’s sustainability after the grant period expires.
Policy Decision Support Tools[H1]
Decision support tools will be developed to integrate knowledge generated by the natural, physical, and social science teams and the environmental sensors to inform policymakers and stakeholders about water, energy, and food systems in Delaware. Interactive geographic interfaces will provide stakeholders with information about the current status of these systems and predictions about how these conditions would change given different climate scenarios. Users will be able to toggle between multiple map layers to view biophysical, social, and economic data about water, energy, and food systems. This tool will help policymakers and stakeholders understand the various benefits, costs, and trade-offs that are involved with various actions and also help policy makers make cost-effective decisions that help them develop evidence-based policy.
H) Partnerships (research competitiveness, commercialization, economic development)
As described previously, we will develop a novel consortium of amongst Wesley College, Delaware Technical Community College, Delaware State University, and the University of Delaware to foster undergraduate social dimension research related to this proposal’s water, energy, and food themes. This consortium will be supported by the national Center for Behavioral & Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR) that is co-headquartered at the University of Delaware. CBEAR regularly engages with officials at the state, regional, national, and international level to facilitate behavioral and experimental economics research related to water, agriculture, and energy.
The research will be valablue to the agricultural industry in the Delaware, estimated to be worth $8 billion each year, which is currently facing costly regulation due to water quality concerns that affect the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. By developing cost-effective mechanism to address these water quality concerns can help sustain the agricultural industry in the state for decades to come. The work will also foster the nascent industry in the production of green seafood such as oysters and edible seaweed, industries that offer increased food production, economic development, and enhanced environmental quality.
F) Sustainability Plan <5 sentences per each theme on how we will sustain this work if funded.>
The proposed educational partnership on behavioral and experimental economics will be sustained after the life of the grant through an integration of this program into the curriculums of the various institutions.
This project will position Delaware well for securing future federal funding to support innovative research in the pre-proposal’s focus area. For instance, the emphasis on experimental methods for research is consistent with the Office of Management and Budget’s Memorandum M-13-17 (2013) that outlines President Obama’s evidence based policy agenda and encourages agency proposals that “utilize randomized controlled trials or careful quasi-experimental techniques to measure the effect of interventions on important policy outcomes” (p. 3). Additionally, in September 2015, President Obama made an Executive Order which encourages federal agencies to incorporate insights from the behavioral sciences to design better government programs. This emphasis has recently been supported by the development of bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act sponsored by Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murry (D-WA) that was signed into law by President Obama in March, 2016. Furthermore, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has indicated a desire to continue this emphasis on behavioral science and evidence-based policy, if elected in November 2016.
The proposed research and one-year course sequence in behavioral and experimental economics will include seed money to support new research related to water, energy, and food issues. Promising results from these studies will be used to solicit larger, external grants. The Center for Experimental & Applied Economics (CEAE) will help facilitate grants that catalyze the use of experimental economics methods in interdisciplinary research related to food, energy, and water. CEAE is skilled in this raising external funds. It has raised more than $18 million (not including the current EPSCoR Rii3 funds) over the past three years and developed two nationally-recognized USDA Centers of Excellence.
[H1]The idea of developing Policy Decision Support Tools could be quite compelling from the perspective of pulling together the various themes of the project and making a broader impact on the State of Delaware.
If we want to go in this direction, we will need to flush this out further and consider what new capacities can be added as part of this grant as, to my knowledge, we currently don’t have all of this capacity inside the existing grouo.