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Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy

Current Projects

CEnREP faculty engage in a wide variety of research and projects which receive external funding from a variety of sources including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Science Foundation.

Food price spikes in a warming world: Estimating risks and evaluating policy responses.

This project examines how climate change will influence food commodity prices and particularly commodity price variability. Between the winter of 2006 and summer of 2008 prices of the world’s four most important staple food commodities, rice, wheat, corn and soybeans, which comprise about 75 percent of world’s caloric base, all more than tripled. This remarkable price incline had broad ramifications for farm incomes, food security, and political stability around the world. An integrated framework is developed which links crop, climate, and economic models to examine how food price levels and variability could change as the climate changes. The impact of warming climate on four major staple crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice) in all major production regions of the world are analyzed.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation. For more information, click the title above, or contact Professor Michael J. Roberts at

Examining Household Responses to Voluntary and Mandatory Outdoor Irrigation Restrictions During Periods of Drought.

Municipal utility managers often rely on conservation programs to reduce residential water demand during times of drought. These programs often take the form of voluntary or mandatory limits on outdoor irrigation, such as restrictions on the days of the week or times of day in which a household is allowed to irrigate their landscape. During the 2007 drought in North Carolina, many municipalities implemented a variety of voluntary and mandatory restrictions to limit water consumption until drought indicators returned to normal levels.

In this project, we assess the overall impact of voluntary and mandatory policies on residential water consumption using household billing and survey data from six geographically diverse municipalities in North Carolina: Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Hendersonville, and High Point. The information gathered in the survey allows us to evaluate household responsiveness to voluntary and mandatory watering restrictions, and to characterize the types of households that are most (least) responsive to watering restrictions.  We explore several demographic characteristics of households (e.g., income and family size) as well as features of the landscape (lot size) and attitudes (e.g., gardening avidity).  With information on how conservation programs affect different types of households’ water-use decisions, utility managers will be able to better design community-specific conservation policies to reduce water consumption during drought.

The survey data used in this research was collected with support from the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Water consumption data were provided by individual municipalities through the UNC Environmental Finance Center. For more information, please contact Laura Taylor at or Roger von Haefen at

The Amenity Values Provided by the National Wildlife Refuge System

Natural open spaces provide multiple forms of benefits to local communities, and the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System is unique is this respect.  We explore one aspect of the beneficial economic impacts of NWRs on their surrounding communities, namely the open-space benefits these refuges provide to local residential property owners. Proximity of a home to an NWR could have a substantial positive effect on nearby property values due to the protections NWRs provide against future development and the preservation of the many natural amenity benefits associated with open spaces.  However, the magnitude of these effects for NWRs remains undocumented.  Quantifying these potentially large positive economic impacts will provide important information to the FWS that can be used for future NWR management and planning decisions.

This project is being funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  For more information, please contact the project coordinator, Laura Taylor at

Rebate programs for water efficient appliances: Are these cost-effective demand management tools?

Rebate programs for retrofitting residential properties with water efficient appliances have become a common conservation policy tool for local municipalities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists over 100 rebate programs across the country, the vast majority of which focus on rebates for installation of high efficiency toilets (HETs). In the U.S., toilets are the largest single source of indoor water use, accounting for almost 30% of a household’s indoor water use on average. Replacing a pre-1990 model toilet with an HET can reduce water usage for a family of four by between 16,000 and 42,000 gallons per year, depending on the age of the toilet replaced.

In this research, we examine whether rebate programs are a cost-effective means for water utilities to promote water conservation. We partner with the Town of Cary water utility to develop a unique database that combines survey data for all households that participated in the utility’s HET rebate program with three years of monthly, household-level, water usage data of participants in the rebate program, as well as a matched sample of their neighbors who did not participate. This unique data allows us to quantify the water savings associated with the rebate program, and importantly, determine how much of this savings is directly attributable to the rebate program and how much would have occurred even in absence of the rebates (i.e., how many households were replacing their old toilets anyway). Program cost-effectiveness is then evaluated and compared to corresponding engineering cost-effectiveness measures that do not incorporate behavioral offsets.

For more information, click on the title above, or contact the project coordinator, Professor Laura O. Taylor at

Measuring Nutrient Reduction Benefits for Policy Analysis

Understanding the benefits of improved water quality is a critical component for federal and state benefit/cost analysis of regulations designed to reduce nutrient loadings and improve national water quality.  In this multi-disciplinary, multi-institution project, a tool is developed which allows States to estimate the monetary benefits associated with nutrient reductions in freshwater bodies as they strive to adopt numeric nutrient criteria for their State water quality standards. A linked environmental assessment model and non-market valuation model has been developed which estimates the recreational and residential benefits associated with reductions in nitrogen and phosphorous pollution. This project is a collaborative effort among CEnREP faculty, economists at RTI International, and environmental scientists at Duke University.

This research is receiving support from the US Environmental Protection Agency.  For more information, click the title above or contact Professor Dan Phaneuf, Principal Investigator.


Optimizing Public Investment in Watershed Restoration Activities: A Case Study of the Black Creek Watershed

The Black Creek watershed is a typical urbanized central piedmont watershed containing residential, commercial, and public land uses. The riparian area is also home to the Town of Cary’s popular Black Creek Greenway. Growth in development in recent years has contributed to increased stormwater runoff and associated non-point source pollution and accordingly, Black Creek is currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 303(d) list of impaired waters and does not support its appropriate aquatic life or meet desired recreational demands.

In this research, we quantify the benefits of watershed restoration and examine which elements of restoration are most valued by property owners. We also examine public and private restoration projects and funding mechanisms to explore the extent to which public activities “crowd-out” private homeowner’s investments to reduce stormwater runoff. Understanding the benefits of watershed restoration is not only a critical component for benefit/cost analysis of regulations and actions designed to improve watershed health, but together with finding optimal payment mechanisms, it is likely to enhance partnerships and coordination between local authorities and the user community.

This project is being funded by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. For more information, please contact Laura Taylor at

Linking Demographic and Economic Characteristics to Environmental
Quality: A GIS Tool for Local Planners in North Carolina

North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. The increases in population and related development have been an enormous benefit to the economy of NC. However, this growth has also had negative impacts on NC’s natural resources and ecosystems, and has led to conflicts over natural resources among different interest groups. It is possible for communities to develop while protecting the amenities that make them desirable in the first place. However, growth in North Carolina has out-paced the abilities of many local jurisdictions to manage growth effectively. This project is addressing the information challenges faced by local governments in North Carolina that are concerned with growth and resultant changes in natural amenities, economics, and quality of life factors. An information tool that richly describes NC’s growth-induced land-use changes and links these changes to economic, demographic, and environmental quality factors at multiple scales. This type of information will provide rapidly growing jurisdictions the framework needed to make sound judgments based on a clear understanding of the relationship between the demographic and economic characteristics of their communities and their natural resource base.

For more information, please click the title above. This project was supported by the NCSU Office of Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development.

Measuring the Benefits of Nutrient Management Strategies at North Carolina Reservoirs

This project will utilize a linked environmental assessment model with non-market valuation techniques to provide benefits estimates associated with recent nutrient management strategies for Jordan and Falls Lake that have been suggested by the NC Environmental Management Commission’s Division of Water Quality.  Understanding the benefits of improved water quality in these two lakes is an important component of the fiscal analysis the Division of Water Quality must undertake of its proposed regulations.

This research is receiving support from the Water Resources Research Institute and the US Environmental Protection Agency.  For more information,click the titel above or contact Professor Roger von Haefen, Principal Investigator.


Estimating the Impacts of Offshore Wind Development on the Tourism Economy of North Carolina

North Carolina has the largest offshore wind energy potential on the East Coast and is actively engaged with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEMRE) to identify potential areas for offshore wind energy development. Offshore wind turbines are large structures, standing approximately 40 stories above the water, and are easily visible 12-15 miles from shore. Numerous studies have shown that offshore wind energy is viewed favorably among the majority of the population, although the visual impacts of wind turbines are received with less enthusiasm and can result in local public opposition. While offshore wind farms can have visual impacts, these impacts can be reduced or eliminated by locating wind farms further offshore. However, as wind farms are moved further offshore, project costs increase substantially.

In this research, we aim to estimate the potential change in demand for vacation property rentals along the Outer Banks when a wind farm is visible from their beach. We will quantify how the willingness to pay for vacation property rentals changes in relation to the size of a visible wind farm and its proximity to the shore. We employ conjoint choice experiments, and our study results will allow policy makers to evaluate tradeoffs between reduced visual impacts of wind farm development and increasing infrastructure costs, which in turn would assist in determining the optimal proximity of a wind farm from the shore.

For more information, please contact the project coordinator, Laura Taylor at

Piping Plovers, Off-Road Vehicles, and Beach Closures at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras is a 30,000 acre dynamic barrier island system located along the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Established as the first national seashore by an act of Congress in 1937, it supports a wide range of outdoor recreation activities and is frequented by over two million visitors per year. It also serves as an important nesting site for two federally-listed endangered species – the piping plover and three sea turtle species. Under Executive Orders issued in the 1970s, the National Park Service (NPS) was required to develop a comprehensive management strategy to rehabilitate the species populations. After several delays and lawsuits, NPS is finalizing a permanent management strategy that includes restrictions on off-road vehicle (ORV) use on sensitive beaches during breeding months. Estimating the cost of potential ORV restrictions to local fishermen is the focus of our study.

Because primary data collection for this task was not feasible, we employ the trip intercept data from the 2006 Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) in our analysis. Although MRFSS is designed to estimate recreational catch from coastal fisheries, it is an attractive data set for our purposes due to its size (~5,000 intercepted fishermen per year) and extensive coverage of North Carolina recreational fishing along the coast. Results from our recreation demand model suggest costs to recreational fishermen on the order of $10-$25 million per year ($2011 dollars).

This research is receiving support from the U.S. National Parks Service. For more information, contact Professor Roger von Haefen, Principal Investigator.