Livermore Brings New Perspective on Cost-Benefit Analysis in Environmental, Administrative Policy to UVA Law
Michael A. Livermore, an expert who has offered a fresh take on using cost-benefit analysis in environmental and administrative policymaking, will join the University of Virginia law faculty in July.
Livermore is currently the executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity and an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law.
Soon after graduating from NYU Law in 2006, Livermore co-authored "Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health" with NYU Law Dean Richard L. Revesz. The book became the foundation for a new approach public interest organizations could take in arguing for policies to protect the environment.
"Many advocacy groups were very hesitant to even think of environmental problems in cost-benefit terms," said Livermore, who started talking to Revesz about the book during his third-year environmental law class with the professor.
"I was curious about that for two reasons. First, it seemed to be a strategic error: This was a language that was very powerful and prevalent in policymaking circles and if you refused to engage in it, you were conceding important territory that just didn't make sense from a strategic advocacy perspective. And then second, because I found cost-benefit analysis, at least in principle, a pretty useful way to think about environmental policy. There were strong economic arguments for the need for environmental protection."
Revesz and Livermore realized an institution would help forward the ideas of the book, and founded the Institute for Policy Integrity to aid that goal.
"We wanted to show how cost-benefit analysis can get integrated in a neutral, impartial way into policymaking," Livermore said.
In the five years Livermore has led the Institute for Policy Integrity, the organization has produced academic scholarship, participated in dozens of advocacy projects ranging from amicus filings in litigation to public comments on complex regulatory proposals, and supported the work of nongovernmental organizations, including the National Wildlife Fund, the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. The institute is also involved in policy issues outside of environmental concerns, for example in its work with the group Just Detention International applying cost-benefit analysis to prison safety policies.
This worked has generated a substantial amount of attention, with broad media exposure in publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Republic and Time.
"We have tried to be a public voice on regulatory issues and help bring some sanity to those debates," Livermore said.
Livermore's scholarship focuses on administrative and environmental law. He has published articles on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House, the application of real options theory to natural resource extraction, the problem of regulatory ossification and water pollution control in China, among other topics.
Recently, Oxford University Press published "The Globalization of Cost-Benefit Analysis in Environmental Policy," which Livermore and Revesz edited together. That book focuses on how the global spread of cost-benefit analysis can facilitate stronger environmental controls in developing countries.
"He brings an established expertise in environmental and policy issues, and I think he's going to significantly strengthen the environmental program here," said University of Virginia law professor Jonathan Z. Cannon, who leads the school's Environmental and Land Use Law Program.
Cannon said Livermore has helped introduce ways of using cost-benefit analysis that have influenced environmental advocates and others.
"Cost-benefit analysis is the tool of choice in executive branch policy assessment, but it is viewed with suspicion by environmentalists and others who are involved in the policy process," Cannon said. "There are ways to use cost-benefit analysis that are appropriate and useful for public interest advocates."
As a student at NYU, Livermore was a scholar in the Furman Program, which is designed to prepare future academics, and a managing editor of the NYU Law Review. After graduating magna cum laude and serving as a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Law's Center for Environmental and Land Use Law, he clerked for Judge Harry T. Edwards at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Livermore, a native of upstate New York, recalled that his first job out of high school was working for an environmental organization, the New York Public Interest Research Group. He eventually became the organization's spokesperson while an undergraduate student at the University at Albany and continued his work there after graduating.
"Where I grew up is kind of a Rust Belt area, so there had been some deindustrialization as businesses moved on and shut down factories. So there were old industrial facilities that weren't creating jobs anymore, weren't really supporting the local community, but that had left a legacy of pollution and contaminated sites," he said. "There was a big question about how to deal with those legacy sites. It was a question nationwide, but it was particularly important where I grew up."
Starting in his college years, he was lobbying legislatures and leading news conferences on environmental and other policy issues.
"What I realized was, many of the people I respected most in my professional life were attorneys," he said of his decision to go to law school. "I thought there was a set of skills I could learn. It was also an opportunity to deepen my intellectual development."
Before law school, Livermore took time off to travel around Latin America and teach himself economics.
"I can imagine that I was the only backpacker carrying around thick economics textbooks in my backpack," he said.
Livermore enjoyed law school so much he wanted to stay part of that community.
"I loved the questions we ask in law school. I loved the intersection of on-the-ground practical perspectives with the intellectual rigor and interdisciplinary excitement that you get also when you have folks from a wide range of backgrounds like economics, political science and history."
Livermore said he was excited to get back to his original plan of teaching full time.
"I'm thrilled about coming to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia," he said. "I'm really looking forward to working with the absolutely outstanding faculty and students.
"A major attraction at Virginia is the generalist mindset of the faculty, which isn't cordoned off into segregated specialties. It's a group of people that has wide interests across disciplines."
Livermore will teach Administrative Law and Environmental Law in the coming school year as an associate professor of law. Though he will no longer helm the institute he helped establish, he aims to keep a hand in the world of policy.
"I do plan to continue to stay involved with current environmental regulatory questions — pay attention to what's happening in Washington and weigh in from time to time if I have something useful to say," he said. "I would find it impossible to stay uninvolved when important stuff is happening."