What is an Energy and Environmental Policy Degree?

The world’s energy and environmental problems are complex. The world’s environmental policy analysts have the chance to solve those problems. Their responsibility is to identify and examine issues that impact the environment and to design policies that protect it.

Degree programs in energy and environmental policy span agriculture, natural resource management, climate change, emission capture and pollution prevention, waste management and recycling, landfill policy, genetic engineering, public health, public education, economic sustainability, and governance. Through their study of these topics and topics in psychology, sociology, and human behavior, students of energy and environmental policy learn how to make science-based decisions that move societies in sustainable directions. They learn how to take actions that protect our planet, and that change the world.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Energy and Environmental Policy – Two Year Duration
An energy and environmental policy education at the associate level combines foundational courses in the major with classes in English composition, math, science, professional communication, and basic computer skills such as word processing and spreadsheets. With this degree, graduates often go on to further study in a bachelor’s program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Energy and Environmental Policy – Four Year Duration
The bachelor’s is the most comprehensive undergraduate curriculum. It prepares students for the majority of entry-level roles and some mid- level roles in the field.

The following are examples of core energy and environmental policy courses offered in these two undergraduate programs. The longer bachelor’s program explores more of these topics, and more of them in greater detail. It also allows students time to conduct independent projects in their preferred areas of interest.

Courses in Culture:

  • American Religion, Ecology, and Culture – the rise of environmentalism in American culture
  • American Environmental History – human attitudes toward nature and how they influence social, political, and economic behavior; the impacts of human activity – migration, transportation, industry, consumer practices, war, technological innovation, politics, and food production – on natural systems
  • Global Environments and World History

Courses in Policy:

  • Food and Society
  • Environment and Society
  • Food, Politics, and Society
  • Native American and Environmental Politics
  • Climate Change, Policy, and Society
  • Environmental Policy and Culture – topics may include Politics of Natural Disasters, Energy in American History, Cultural Resource Management and Environmental Politics, Environmental Anthropology, Environmental Justice, US Environmental Politics, International Environmental Politics, US Environmental Law and Policy, Wilderness in American History
  • International Environmental Organizations as Agents of Change

Courses in the Natural Sciences:

  • Diversity of Life
  • Plant-People Interactions
  • The Nature of Plants
  • Quantitative Methods for Ecology and Conservation
  • Conservation Genetics
  • Soils and the Environment
  • Plant Biology and Conservation – Introduction
  • Spring Flora
  • Experience in Field Ecological Research
  • Conservation Biology
  • Plant Community Biology
  • Plant Evolution and Diversity
  • Sustainability in Developed and Developing Economies
  • Climate Catastrophes in Earth History
  • The Ocean, the Atmosphere, and Our Climate
  • Earth Systems (Rocks and Minerals) Field Trip
  • Earth System History
  • Energy and Climate Change
  • Earth, a Habitable Planet
  • The Health of the Biosphere
  • Energy and the Environment

Master’s Degree in Energy and Environmental Policy – Two to Three Year Duration
It is quite common for employers in energy and environmental policy to seek job candidates with a master’s degree in the field. Most programs at this level are composed of limited required courses. Instead, they allow students to focus their studies on energy and environmental topics of particular interest to them. Research and project work leading to a thesis are the emphases of the curriculum.

Here are some examples of courses that energy and environmental policy graduate students may take:

  • Energy and the Environment – examination of global warming, acid rain, photochemical smog, spent fuel disposal; sustaining standards of living through renewable resources, nuclear power, and international cooperation
  • Global Climate Change – the history of climate change, the urgent need to address it; the influences of economics, politics, special interests, and the media
  • The Politics of Global Food Security – how food security and food justice are impacted by geopolitics, gender politics, politics of international trade, politics of national security, environmental policies, farm subsidy policies, nutrition and health policies
  • Energy, Environment, and Resource Security – how global population growth will challenge the world, demand for increased energy supplies, energy security and energy diplomacy, water and other resource management
  • The Economics and Finance of Energy – pricing, transportation, and insurance of coal, oil, and gas; demand, consumption, efficiency, and safety of these commodities; investment in research and development of alternate energy sources
  • Putting Energy Policy into Practice – understanding energy policy, markets, and regulation; the role of the energy manager
  • Water, Politics, and Sustainability – conserving and managing water, water as an economic and political resource, discussion of the conflicts over access to water that the future will bring
  • Energy Modeling – constructing financial models of conventional and renewable energy products; valuation methods, budgeting, and risk analysis
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Global Affairs – working with spatial data, finding and creating data, spatial analysis, GIS-based map production
  • Public Opinion and Political Psychology in Global Affairs – factors that shape public values, beliefs, and behavior with regard to environmental policy, global affairs, voting and democracy, economics, and human rights
  • The United Nations and 21st Century Challenges – geopolitical conflicts, peacekeeping, counter terrorism, pandemics, sustainable development, climate change, refugee flows, global technology cooperation

Doctoral Degree in Energy and Environmental Policy – Five to Six Year Duration
Graduates with a Doctoral Degree in Energy and Environmental Policy work in senior corporate and consulting roles and in academia as university professors and researchers. The doctoral program is typically made up of three components: a core curriculum, development of a research area and the dissertation proposal, and the writing of the dissertation.

Required core courses at this level commonly come from the areas of methodology; social science; and science, engineering, and public policy. Here are some sample courses:

  • Technology, Environment, and Society
  • International Perspectives on Energy and Environmental Policy
  • Microeconomic Theory
  • Macroeconomic Theory
  • Advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Advanced Social Research
  • Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Political Economy
  • Electricity Policy and Planning
  • Politics and Disaster
  • Regional Watershed Management
  • Population Ecology
  • Urban Transportation Planning
  • Solar Energy Technology and Applications
  • Behavioral Ecology

Degrees Similar to Energy and Environmental Policy

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve problems in business.

Environmental Planning
Degree programs in environmental planning teach students how to balance human needs and wants with environmental sustainability and protection. Classes span the principles of general architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture and design, and urban and rural development. The curriculum may also include coursework in sociological concepts in environmental planning. Topics addressed in this area may include poverty and the environment, population and environmental planning, and social policies that shape environmental planning.

Environmental Science
The basis of this discipline is that all natural things interact. Individuals who pursue a degree in the field learn how to analyze aspects of the environment and identify the causes of environmental problems.

Natural Resource Management
Natural resource management is about finding ways to sustain the Earth’s resources in the face of the growing human population. Majors in this discipline are typically passionate about clean water, clean energy, and clean environments. They study in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in the field and learn how to apply scientific and ecological knowledge, as well as economic and social awareness to find solutions to preserving our natural world.

Public Policy
Students in a public policy degree program study the world of public affairs and leadership. They take courses from various disciplines to attempt to answer complex questions like: What do we need to do to find solutions to social problems? Classes span political science, law, criminal justice, economics, public administration, human services, and sociology. Coursework includes analysis of local, state, and national governments and other public institutions and how they tackle issues and policy problems.

Urban Planning
Degree programs in urban planning teach the processes involved in designing communities, towns, and cities. Students learn how to make decisions about the need for and placement of infrastructure like roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, airports, railroads, dams, utilities, parks, and other urban projects. Coursework includes environmental planning, which considers environmental, social, political, and economic factors.

Skills You’ll Learn

Communication, Public Speaking, and Collaboration
Effectively advising on policy calls for effective debate of ideas that are proposed and presented.

Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Creativity
In the field of policy analysis and administration, conducting research must be followed by critical evaluation and creative solutions.

Data Analysis and Information Technology
Individuals who are responsible for analyzing policy become comfortable with analyzing large sets of quantitative and qualitative data and using information technology.

Public Awareness
Students of energy and environmental policy quickly learn the importance of staying informed on relevant current events, public opinions, and political issues and developments.

Report Writing
Policy analysis inevitably involves writing reports and proposals.

Before a policy can be recommended and implemented, it must be investigated and researched.

Sensitivity to Public Interests
In considering implementation of policy, professionals in the field must first and foremost examine options that serve the public interest.

What Can You Do with an Energy and Environmental Policy Degree?

In the sectors listed below, energy and environmental policymakers develop policy in areas such as climate change, conduct scientific research, provide environmental education, design legislation, and help public and private enterprise plan and manage sustainable products and services.

The US Federal government is the largest single employer in the environmental sector. Departments and agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, and the Food and Drug Administration hire or contract energy and environmental policymakers. In general, positions with these bodies involve writing laws and regulations. At the state and local levels, government jobs exist with departments of conservation and renewable energy, and public enterprises like water and power utilities.

Private Sector
In the private sector, energy and environmental policymakers work with traditional businesses, consulting firms, and universities. Their roles involve developing sustainable operation strategies for businesses and governments and managing environmental compliance programs through waste reduction and energy efficiency. Industries leading the way in sustainability include healthcare, telecommunications, consumer services, pharmaceuticals, hardware equipment, and food and beverage. In university settings, holders of a Ph.D. in energy and environmental policy conduct research and teach.

International Organizations
Energy and environmental policy is often effective only when it is policy that is embraced globally. International policymakers work to reach trade agreements and treaties. In the energy and environmental realm, they are called upon to combine environmental sensibility with political, economic, negotiation, and foreign-language know-how. They may work for and with organizations such as the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Development Program, and World Trade Organization.

Non-Profits, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Because this sector is not a large employer of energy and environmental policymakers, competition for positions is substantial. Roles call not only for a strong background in policy development, but skills in communication, advocating and lobbying, and fundraising. Among the most prominent non-profits committed to the environment and conservation are Greenpeace, National Resources Defense Club, Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy.

Depending on their employer and the specific responsibilities of their position, energy and environmental policymakers may hold various titles. Here are some examples:

  • Energy and Environmental Policy Specialist
  • Policy / Legislative Analyst
  • Research Consultant
  • Green Energy Coordinator
  • Environmental Compliance Officer
  • Energy / Environmental Lobbyist
  • Non-Profit Advocate / Administrator
  • Resource Economist


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