Faculty Affiliate Spotlight: Paige Weber

April 1, 2024

This edition’s faculty spotlight is on Professor Paige Weber. She came to the University of California, Berkeley in 2023 as an Assistant Professor in the Energy and Resources Group. Before coming to Berkeley, Paige was an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Postdoctoral Researcher at UC Santa Barbara. She earned her PhD and two master’s degrees at Yale University and received her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. Paige shared why she became a researcher and where she is focusing her work.

What led you to become an energy and environmental economist?

As an undergrad, I was focused on wealth inequality. Then I became fascinated by how resource and pollution distribution relate to the dispersion of power—in both kilowatts and politics. I wanted to learn more about energy markets so I looked for a job with a utility. While I was there, I had a lot of questions about energy production and consumption. Someone told me an economist might have the tools to answer those questions, which led me to graduate training in environmental economics. I was worried that academia could be boring and lonely, since I had enjoyed the pace of industry. But, I was hooked by the creativity involved in the research process, which I think was an under-sold and fun part of the job. And I found a vibrant community of environmental economists actively involved in shaping policy.

What brought you to UC Berkeley and the Energy Institute?

I follow the Energy Institute and all the ground-breaking work from the prolific faculty and students here. I was thrilled to learn of the opportunity to join the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley and am thoroughly enjoying being part of ERG and the Energy Institute. The students in my department, the Energy Institute, and at Berkeley, are a big appeal. It’s amazing to be a part of the community here and be inspired by the passion the students have for energy systems and environmental economics.

How would you describe your overall research focus?

Much of my research studies the determinants, and hopefully, the solutions to, environmental inequality. I like to look at that from different angles. Sometimes my work looks at how different policies impact environmental inequality. Or, how different industry trends impact pollution disparities, for example, the evolution of generation technologies in the U.S. electricity sector. I’m also interested in the role of location decisions on environmental outcomes, on both the people side and the firm side.

What is one research project you are most proud of?

One recent work I am proud of is a literature synthesis recently published in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy. That synthesis covers around 100 papers published in the last decade on environmental justice and economics. I get asked a lot from colleagues about what the latest research in this area is, and it really felt like time to take stock of the surge research here. Together with my co-authors, Lucas Cain, Danae Hernández-Cortez, and Chris Timmins, I’m excited to be able to offer this synthesis to our field.

Finally, what’s an ongoing project that you’re excited about?

A new project I’m working on (with Danae Hernández-Cortez, Chris Timmins, and Kyle Meng) looks at how cleaning up the local environment impacts not just environmental inequality, but  inequality in overall well-being. Following an environmental cleanup, housing costs could increase, and maybe, the populations with the worst pre-existing pollution have to leave the neighborhood because they can’t afford it anymore. But it’s not clear that migration would actually occur. This project looks at how renters experience an improvement in the environment and whether rent changes and migration costs reduce the overall benefit of a cleaner environment.