Situated at the intersection of policy, environmental politics, and American politics, my research contributes to scholarship in environmental policy and political communication, particularly issue framing. I investigate how people talk and think about contentious policy issues and the political consequences of different strategic “framing” decisions.
As such, drawing on my interdisciplinary training in political science and environmental studies, I conduct research that investigates how political communication can help or hinder the adoption of climate-energy policies and energy projects more broadly. I explore these issues using qualitative methods: process tracing, interviews, content analysis, and in-depth case study assessment.
In addition, my long-term scholarly practices are designed to include undergraduate student researchers: I value my role as a mentor to junior scholars, and enjoy the mutual benefits that arise from student engagement throughout the research process.
I have several interrelated projects underway with a number of collaborators, including undergraduate researchers. These projects collectively pursue questions about the politics of renewable energy, the functioning of participatory governance and civic engagement, and the role of framing in policy conflicts:
1. Prairie Solar Project: The Politics of Solar Energy in Sidney, Illinois
This project investigates the development of a new solar farm in Champaign County, and explores the political controversy of the farm’s approval, especially in the context of a statewide movement toward renewable energy implementation in accordance with the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016.
2. Framing and participation within in Dakota Access Pipeline
With McKenzie Johnson at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, this project investigates how landowners in Illinois and Iowa experienced the siting and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
3. Overcoming State Preemption? Local governance and environmental sustainability in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
How can sustainability and environmental protection be strengthened through local-level democracy and civic engagement in Lancaster county – especially when it comes to intrusive corporate entities and extractive industries? Through investigating these kinds of questions, this project is situated within the thematic focus area of environmental sustainability. In collaboration with my community partners, Lancaster Against Pipelines and the Pennsylvania Community Rights Network, I ask how democratic participation at a local level can be used to safeguard ecosystems – and conversely, how innovative local governance is increasingly stifled by state preemption of local level policies.
4. Prior Work: Frame Prevalence in Climate Change Skepticism
My work on strategic framing, published in Environmental Politics, focuses specifically on the climate change framing strategies of the Heartland Institute think tank. Heartland is a notorious global leader in the proliferation of climate change “skepticism.” Using qualitative content analysis, we assess the relative presence, salience and political efficacy of science versus non-science frames (such as economic, policy design, or climate impact messages) within skeptic think tank publications.
We found an unexpected, continued reliance on science framing, but with a shift toward increased attacks on climate scientists and a spread of arguments about the impacts consumers would face as a consequence of new climate policies. As such, this research suggests a shift away from a simple “denial” of climate science and toward messaging that is more personalized and radical than previous forms of climate change skepticism, posing intriguing consequences for climate change communication.