CELS Professor Awarded Grants to Understand the Quantification of Environmental Values

Corey Lang is on a mission. He wants to understand what value people place on non-market goods such as open space and the siting of renewable energy.

There is typically no observable monetary value associated with non-market goods. However, open space such as parks and recreational areas can influence the value people place on other goods such as real estate.  Lang was awarded two $500,000 grants from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research trends associated with the value people place on these non-market goods and their impact on the price of other goods and services. 

“Land conservation is a somewhat sizable policy objective in many states,” said Lang, an associate professor in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics.  “This policy generates value through the property market and through recreation opportunities. One thing we want to understand is if there are disparities in benefits between different income, racial, and ethnic groups.”

Lang’s research also explores how and why people vote for environmental public goods.  In 2016, he collaborated with Dr. Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz in the Department of Political Science to conduct an exit poll focused on the Green Economy Bond – a state bond referendum authorizing spending on a suite of environmental projects.  They wanted to learn about expectations and values held by voters and how these influenced voting decisions. Using preliminary data from the exit poll, Lang and Pearson-Merkowitz were able to secure a larger grant to continue their research.

Over the past eight years, Lang’s research has brought more than $2.4 million in grants to the university.

He received his Ph.D in economics from Cornell University and joined the CELS Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics as an assistant professor in 2011. Lang, who teaches two graduate-level econometrics courses (the use of math and statistics to measure economic data) and an undergraduate course on climate change economics, was promoted to associate professor in 2017.

“I was really excited by this department”, says Lang. “It’s rare that you find an economics department where everyone is focused on environment and resources. It seemed like a great opportunity and that has definitely been true.”

Lang is also interested in how the local community is responding to America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island. His research, funded through a $276,000 grant from Rhode Island Sea Grant, is focused on the economic impact of the wind farm on tourism. Lang is using data from real estate transactions and rentals to determine if the installation of wind turbines has had any significant impact on the real estate and rental market. The study could be used to gauge the affect of offshore wind farms in other states.

Using the size of America’s smallest state to his advantage, Lang is able to conduct statewide research that would be much more difficult in states like Texas or California.  While the bulk of his work is focused in Rhode Island, Lang is excited about the possible applications of his work on broader scales.