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My research aims to provide empirical estimates of the impacts of both historic and modern policies and legal institutions on environmental quality, resource use, and economic outcomes. This research is based on a keen interest in policy analysis for pressing environmental issues such as behavior around resource scarcity, pollution, property rights conflicts and procedural and environmental justice. 

Topic Areas:

  • Natural Resource and Environmental Economics

  • Economic History

  • Law and Economics; Finance

Policy to Pollute: Strategic Bargaining and Dissolved Oxygen Depletion in Streams and Rivers in the American West
[Job Market Paper]

Abstract: Do legal proceedings worsen water quality? I investigate whether lengthy and expensive processes for quantifying American Indian water rights, which have long-been judicially recognized, but not enforced or implemented, engenders pollution. I create the first granular spatial dataset mapping, networking, and connecting millions of water-quality readings in U.S. streams and rivers with official start and end dates for
tribal water-rights adjudications. I  find causal evidence that water pollution worsens as a result of proceedings upstream of reservations, especially close to the border. This worsening stops once rights are settled, illustrating key predictions of the property-rights literature.

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“Recognizing Rights in the Era of Appropriation: Understanding the Institutional Underpinnings and Evolving Legal Framework of U.S. Federal Indian Land Policies”
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Book chapter in the forthcoming Festschrift in Honor of Joe Kalt and Steve Cornell, edited by Miriam Jorgensen and Wayne Ducheneaux

Abstract: The U.S. government routinely used legal mechanisms to usurp U.S.-sanctioned property rights for Indian nations over the course of American history. Policies were explicitly introduced to disenfranchise tribes, eradicate governance structures on tribal nations, and transfer land and resources away from tribes. These policies worked to an extent – since colonization tribes have found themselves in a complicated maze of changing property rights as they relate to tribal and trust land. Nonetheless, as the era of self-determination has evolved, tribes have been able to strategically interface with U.S. institutions of their choosing, in order to further aims designated by their own nations. This chapter focuses on the evolution of property rights in the context of U.S.-tribal relations, and the institutional framework that engendered the system of appropriation that played out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the American west. I also present summary findings relating to American Indian reservation land loss during U.S. western settlement, indicating the importance of geologic and natural resources, but also of socio-economic factors in terms of the pattern of land loss.


Discounting Water: Calculating Risk Attitudes Towards Owning Rights to Water in the American West

Abstract: The headline story about long-unenforced and un-quantified American Indian reserved rights to water is that they impede development by engendering outsized uncertainty in water markets. This is due to the prolonged process of settling these rights and the amount of tribes that still have theoretical, but un-quantified, senior rights to water. In this paper, I calculate a measure of this uncertainty using wholesale water market transactions in western states by comparing lease-to-sales price differences using varying long-term lease durations. I find that uncertainty, as measured by the risk premium (compared to the risk-free rate), falls once negotiations for water commence, and once rights are settled. Using the bargaining literature, I also find evidence of entrenchment in that uncertainty continues to fall as negotiations expand out years, indicating strategic behavior in the negotiation process by status-quo appropriators. I also find the long-term discount rate for water is lower than the risk-free rate, in line with the environmental literature.

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