Michael Ellerbrock, an extension specialist and professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was recently appointed to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council where he will combine his experience as a seasoned academic in the classroom with his work as a longtime environmental policy mediator.
Ellerbrock was officially invited to serve on the council by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy at the end of August. He will be advising the agency on cross-cutting issues related to environmental justice as a member of the 26-person entity, an organization that was founded in 1993.
“I’m real excited because the role of the council is to advise the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on real-world problems and ask questions such as 'who is being disproportionately impacted by these policies?' ” said Ellerbrock.
The role of the council is to sit in as listeners in public hearings where environmental issues are being hashed out, assess all of the public input, and provide a report to McCarthy regarding action to be taken at the federal level.
Being privy to these hearings will benefit Ellerbrock’s students, too. He’ll be able to take what he sees in the case studies in the field and relay timely events taken straight from the front lines of environmental policy and share them in the classroom.
According to the selection committee, Ellerbrock’s background in economics was what attracted them to him, as his is a field of expertise that they previously lacked.
In his classes, Ellerbrock teaches his students about the costs and benefits of specific environmental policies, international agreements on environmental issues, and economic incentives to improve air and water quality. He also teaches students that capitalism does not have to be in conflict with conservation and preservation.
“We really need an economic perspective,” said Ellerbrock. “I’ll help the council understand the business perspective of enforcing environmental policy and give practical economic advice that is affordable.”
While the professor who has been described as a “renaissance” thinker attributes his background in economics as a factor in his being chosen for the prestigious committee, it’s his broad-based background in ethics and mediation that will no doubt serve him well in working with others to best find solutions to natural resource problems.
Indeed, this year marks the 14th year Ellerbrock has helped train commonwealth community members to reconcile disputes through the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute, a partnership among various state agencies, to develop more environmentally friendly practices. To date he has trained almost 400 persons in matters regarding myriad environmental issues from working with loggers, to improving poultry nutrient management techniques, to partnering Tangier Island watermen with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
He is also an ordained minister at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Blacksburg, Va., and St. Jude's in Christiansburg, Va.
Ellerbrock received his bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University and a master's degree and Ph.D. from Clemson University. He is also a member of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
“I hope I’m an integrated thinker,” said Ellerbrock of the demands of the job and his ability to see many different perspectives. “The legislation behind the council demands that the council be balanced.”
For all of the intangible interests the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council must consider from legislators, researchers, and industry, Ellerbrock says he remains aware of the very real impact his advice on environmental policy can have for those who live with the consequences of environmental policy gone wrong, and also right.
“Giving voice to the voiceless,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”