Former EPA Enforcement Head Joins Chicago Policy Research Lab

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By Renee Schoof

Former EPA enforcement chief Cynthia Giles spearheaded the agency’s innovations in improving compliance with environmental laws. Now she’s carrying on that work in a new job at the Energy and Environment Lab at the University of Chicago.

Giles started work in July as executive fellow and director of strategic initiatives at the lab, where researchers work with civic and government leaders to test and scale up policies to reduce pollution.

“In the real world, as I said many times when I was working at the EPA, things break—managers don’t pay attention, equipment doesn’t work as hoped, people cheat. It’s important that government policies are designed with knowledge about how the real world works and informed by research that tests that kind of thing,” Giles told Bloomberg BNA.

Giles led EPA’s development of its Next Generation strategy for better compliance with environmental laws when she was assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance during the Obama administration. Next Generation involves clearer regulations and the use of pollution detection technology such as infrared cameras, electronic reporting of emissions data and making that data available to the public, and new enforcement approaches such as data analysis and the targeting of regulated facilities for inspection.

Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at Chicago and director of the school’s Energy and Environment Lab and its Energy Policy Institute, said that Giles’ work on Next Generation was important and that her experience would help the lab.

“One key insight from Next Generation is so patently obvious that it seems like a small deal but it’s actually an incredibly important deal—and that is the American people are best served by there being transparency about what levels of pollution are being emitted. It’s impossible to have effective regulatory policy without an agreement on the basic numbers,” Greenstone told Bloomberg BNA.

Giles, he said, was “a tremendous leader and an ardent supporter of making sure we all had a common set of facts on which to base policy.”

Giles said her work mainly would involve helping get more research done that answers questions environmental regulators have, and making sure the regulators know about research that they can use.

“You can get better results with no additional cost if you pay attention to how things actually work in the world,” she said. “It’s the kind of research we need a lot more of, so that people who are designing these programs with the goal of reducing pollution that affects people’s health design them in a way that’s going to work.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Renee Schoof in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at

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