Please tell us about yourself

For Baishali Bakshi, economist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the recipe is easy: an aptitude for mathematics, a head for trends and analysis, and a personal connection with the environment.

“Where I grew up in India, there was high population density and lots of environmental pollution. This was compounded by the fact that there were also deep social inequities,” Bakshi said. Her journey to environmental economics was the natural result of combining her number-crunching prowess with her care for the environment and people living on the outskirts of decision-making.

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What did you study?

Bakshi did her Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Economics from Presidency College, M.A. (Economics) from Delhi School of Economics and PhD (Economics) from University of California Irvine. She also did her PhD in Wildlife Ecology & Management from University of Minnesota.

What is the role of Environmental economists?

For the MPCA, the economists analyze the economics of regulations and policies to protect water, air, land and renewable resources. They evaluate and quantify benefits, costs, incentives and impacts of alternative options using economic principles and statistical techniques. Their work informs agency rulemakings, federal and state regulations, permit development, legislative initiatives and regulations, and agency fee changes.

Bakshi’s focus on equity is a key component in her work. Placing a hard value on life may seem stark, but the economists say it is essential.

“How do you put a dollar value on life? It’s priceless! But if we don’t, we run the risk of undervaluing it and there’s a much higher cost of losing out,” Bakshi said.

Minnesota has been at the forefront of progressive environmental policy for years; however, both economists sense a deepening divide between policy and science that should not exist.

How does your work benefit the society?

Environmental economics as a concept emerged in the midst of a massive environmental movement that swept through the country .

Today, the question is less about whether people should protect the environment, and more on how they can reduce pollution while also enjoying the benefits of economic growth.

As the economy grows, environmental quality tends to decrease. But once economic growth reaches a certain level, people tend to become more concerned with environmental quality and especially the impact on human health, explained Bakshi, adding that this relationship has been documented by researchers.

Finding the optimum level for industry and environmental quality isn’t an exact science, but Bakshi is getting close.

Bakshi, who came to the MPCA in February 2017, is reviewing the benefits of clean water and regulating it in Minnesota.

“As humans, we can see the benefits of protecting the resources we need to survive and thrive, and translate it to regulations that benefit us … the harder question is how to help people understand that taking care of other forms of life is beneficial to humans since we’re all connected through ecosystems,” she said.

In the long run, Bakshi says smarter regulation is helpful, controlling pollutants in a way that has the most impact.

Bakshi is surprisingly calm about the handful of other big projects on her plate. An expanded Life and Breath study and some climate change work, to name two. “The environment provides us with a lot of benefits, and there are costs to harming it,” Bakshi said. She is on a mission to find out just how high those costs will be for Minnesotans.