UIC Department of Civil & Materials Engineering
WISEST Visiting Scholars Program

Wednesday, March 17, 2010: 2 LCF, 3:30 pm

California Bellwether or Bust?

Deb Niemeier,
Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering,
UC, Davis
Director of the UC Davis-Caltrans Air Quality Project
Editor-in-Chief, Transportation Research Part A


In this talk, I will review the current state of global warming policy within California, and contextualize its environmental progressiveness on climate change within its political actuality. On the progressive side, California’s efforts at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions are establishing a critical roadmap for others to follow. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (commonly known as AB 32) mandates that the California Air Resources Board set a greenhouse gas emissions cap for the year 2020 based on 1990 levels, implement and enforce regulations to meet the 2020 limit, and identify and design greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures. The medium-term 2020 target is coupled with a long-term reduction target of 80% of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In 2007, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 375, a bill that by nearly all accounts represents a dramatic shift in how we think about regional planning. The bill calls for the creation of sustainable regional growth plans that reduce sprawl and mandates that the Air Resources Board set regional greenhouse gas targets. Within 15 days of the gubernatorial signing, the Air Resources Board issued a statewide reduction target of 5 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 from land use, a number based largely on achieving compact development patterns that are expected to translate to a 4% reduction in VMT. Together, these legislative initiatives set up ambitious – some would even say audacious – goals. As the various political groups begin to gear up for the next gubernatorial election, and with a faltering economy riding, it remains to be seen what kind of progress California will actually be able to achieve.


Dr. Deb Niemeier is a Professor in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis. She joined UC Davis in 1994 as an Assistant Professor after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

Her research interests span transportation-air quality modeling, energy consumption and land use interactions, sustainability and the project development process for major infrastructure projects. She has served on the expert independent review teams to assess the cost increases associated with the San Francisco Bay Bridge and to review the cost methods used for the proposed 3rd locks of the Panama Canal. Working with an interdisciplinary research group of graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and faculty collaborators, she has published more than 110 journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Niemeier has been the major advisor for 20 Ph.D. students, two of whom are university faculty (University of Illinois and Cornell University).

She has served as Dept. Chair and she recently served for four years as the Director of the John Muir Institute and Associate Vice Chancellor in the Office of Research at UC Davis. The Muir, which includes more than 100 active researchers, is a center of excellence for research and outreach programs related to the biological, physical, and human environment. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Transportation Research, Part A and is a member of the MARs Corp. Scientific Advisory Council (Sustainability). She is also the Director of the UC Davis-Caltrans Air Quality Project, a continuing state and federally funded research program, which began in 1999, aimed at improving vehicle emissions modeling and developing regulatory responses for state and local agencies. She has received a number of awards including the Aldo Leopold Leadership Award (2005), the Chancellor’s Fellow Award (2001-2004), an NSF CAREER award (1997), and UC Davis Outstanding Faculty Mentor (1997) and Faculty Advisor (1995) Awards.

Dr. Niemeier’s other activities include teaching and outreach. She is particularly interested in developing leadership opportunities for women in engineering. She was the principal investigator (PI) for the 1st Women in Engineering Leadership Conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was PI on an NSF Leadership Grant examining the demographics and administrative aspects associated with department chairs of major research universities. Dr. Niemeier is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, currently serving an elected four-year member-at-large term on the AAAS engineering section nominating committee, as well as a member of the Transportation Research Board and NECTAR, the network on European Communications and Transport Activities Research. She is a trained mediator, has served on several National Research Council committees, and is a member of the graduate faculty in the department of Computer Science as well as a member of a number of interdisciplinary graduate groups: Transportation, Technology, and Policy; Ecology, and Geography.