Amy Jaffe Was Drawn to ITS-Davis to Help Shape Future Sustainable Energy Policies

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

“If ever there was a time, it’s now,” says Amy Myers Jaffe, about the need to fashion a national energy policy that addresses both the growing insecurity of Middle East oil supply and the challenges of climate change. And now, Jaffe, one of the world’s foremost experts on the oil industry, has joined the University of California, Davis to help.

“We’re hurtling toward a crisis with the region that supplies much of the world’s oil and gas. We need different policies in the United States. California is in position to get it right and I was attracted to this job to help California lead us forward.”

The country is at a critical juncture, she says. “In the past, we had the desire but not the technology, or the will but not the necessity. Now we have all four.”

Today’s young people have the desire to transition to alternative forms of transportation and sustainable living. For the first time in decades, advances in automotive and fuel technologies present new and enticing options for meeting the new generation’s demands. The daily news headlines scream of the growing need. And decision-makers in California have the will.

“It’s important that we design a successful market system to propel and enhance adoption of these technologies; to do that we need the sellers of fuel and cars to cooperate,” Jaffe says.

She sees in UC Davis the potential to foster that cooperation and help build a successful system. Jaffe says she was drawn to UC Davis by its focus on sustainability and its interdisciplinary research on transportation and energy. She looks forward to the opportunity to work near California’s state capital, which is an international pioneer on environmental public policy.

“I believe UC Davis has made a substantial commitment to working on this issue, and I want to be part of it,” she says.

Jaffe, whose expertise spans oil geopolitics and strategic energy policy, including energy science and energy economics, has a joint appointment to ITS-Davis and the Graduate School of Management (GSM). At ITS-Davis she will lead fossil energy research in the NextSTEPS (Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways) Program. She will also be developing a new joint executive education program at GSM in collaboration with ITS-Davis, and developing energy research and educational programs at GSM.

The new position presents an opportunity for Jaffe to apply her expertise to the NextSTEPS multidisciplinary research consortium and tap her longstanding relationships with industry in a meaningful way. Her background as an energy analyst and communicator makes her a perfect fit for NextSTEPS. Its goal is to generate new insight about the sustainable transportation energy future and to disseminate that knowledge to decision-makers in industry and government so that they can make informed technology, investment and policy choices.

Both NextSTEPS and the new energy executive education program at GSM provide opportunities to explore the diverse perspectives of leaders in industry, academia, government and advocacy, and to engage them together in developing successful, sustainable state and national policies. Jaffe expects to contribute to and strengthen these well-established collaborations at UC Davis.

Jaffe has spent the past 16 years at Rice University, where she served as director of the Energy Forum at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. She was the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies, as well as associate director of the Rice Energy Program.

Jaffe is a frequent keynote speaker at major energy industry and investment conferences, and has testified on Capitol Hill on energy matters. She is a widely quoted commentator on oil and energy policy in the international media and appears regularly on TV and in print.

“Amy’s knowledge of the energy industry perfectly complements and enhances ITS-Davis’s global leadership and expertise on sustainable transportation,” said ITS-Davis Director Dan Sperling.

Jaffe began her career as a journalist and strengthened her understanding of the linkage between the Middle East and U.S. energy policy as senior editor and Middle East analyst for Petroleum Intelligence Weekly. Some may be surprised that she has excelled in academia, given her nontraditional background, but she finds common values between journalism and academic research: the pursuit of truth, the pursuit of knowledge, and a commitment to the public’s right to know. Jaffe bridges the two worlds; she understands economists and modelers who operate in an academic world and can apply their work in an approach that speaks to a broader audience.

One reason she is excited about coming to UC Davis is the opportunity to work with industry to “bring innovation into the business value chain at every level.”

The oil industry, she says, understands that it will have to promote and foster innovation to develop conventional and unconventional fuels to meet future energy needs. “Sustainability and community involvement will have to be front and center for the energy industry. And they can see that clearly now in light of recent failures such as the deep-sea Horizon disaster,” she says.

Industry today is looking for young people who can help it apply advanced, innovative new technologies, and interface with communities. “That’s why I’m optimistic.  We’re not going to sit in the dark, and we’re not going to not drive our cars. We need an army of young people who will help companies do the right thing,” and collaborations such as those underway at UC Davis ensure we’re headed in the right direction.

One of her most interesting – and among her favorite – activities at Rice, Jaffe says, was teaching an interdisciplinary sustainability class that draws students from engineering, social science, environmental science, policy studies, and business disciplines. The class involved team projects and a hands-on internship in the summer. In another class, on energy policy, students took on the role of OPEC ministers who have to influence the price of oil in the character of the country they represent. Jaffe says she hopes to lead similarly creative classes and seminars here and looks forward to educating not just students and the broader UC Davis community, but also industry.

Many of Jaffe’s colleagues in the energy industry were surprised to learn of her move to California because it signals a shift in her career focus away from the oil industry’s impact on foreign policy and economic security.

“It’s not that I’m abandoning writing about national security,” she responds. “It’s that these other elements – sustainability and energy – are what we need to be talking about for national security.”

More than one observer has pointed out the symbolism of her move, given the longstanding political rivalry between Texas and California, to which she replies that people need to stop thinking in anachronistic terms about what’s good for one state or region of the country over another.

“We’re all Americans,” she exclaims. “We’re facing the possibility of a giant crisis in the Middle East and we need to solve it for the sake of future generations without destroying the planet. It’s not partisan or regional. I’m seeking what’s going to work for our whole country.”


Further reading and viewing:

Jaffe has written extensively on the energy security implications of the Arab Spring and on the need for a clearly defined policy and trigger mechanism for releasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Jaffe, Amy and Keily Miller, The Arab Awakening and the Pending Oil pinch, Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations

Jaffe, Amy, America’s Real Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Foreign Policy

View Jaffe discuss energy subsidies and costs, and strategies for how we create renewables that don’t require subsidies at the New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference, April 2012. Jaffe’s introduction begins at about 8:00.

Jaffe talks about the expected price drop after Governor Brown directs the state’s Air Resources Board to allow the sale of what’s called winter gas on Capital Public Radio