Norberto Quiñones Vilches

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)


Main Advisor: Jess Zimmerman Ph.D.

Co-Advisor: Joseph Henry Vogel Ph.D.

Dissertation Research Topic/questions:

Energy options for Puerto Rico.

Education Background

Undergraduate research experience

I have several experiences in research that are relevant. As an undergraduate in the Environmental Sciences Program at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras (UPR-RP), I conducted research that examined the effects of biological factors on seagrass ecosystems, water resource management at communities, waste solid management plan for the urban system of Rio Piedras and landuse management plan for Fajardo municipality. The field work gave me insights into how communities interact with the policies to regulate water, waste, and land-use. I presented the effectiveness of the policies at the PRECAM program of the Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico in 2006 and at an Environmental Science Seminar at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus in 2009. For my undergraduate thesis I worked with the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC) and their NSF program to study the effects of ionic liquids on respiration in freshwater lakes. The thesis evaluated the impact of industrial waste on freshwater lakes, the human-nature relationship on how these wastes are treated and the biophysics characteristics of the lakes. Statistical packages, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and public policy analysis were used. My training in this research center exposed me to a transdisciplinary approach by large team of international scientists. I presented the undergraduate thesis in a seminar at the UNDERC facilities to the scientific communities of University of Notre Dame and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Job related research experience

During my undergraduate studies, I worked as a research assistant with Loretta Roberson PhD, NHEINC and Zaibette Maldonado PhD. My duties were both in the field and laboratory in numerous tasks regarding biological processes. For NHEINC and Maldonado, I work as a GIS mapping coordinator where I located water pumps, physical distribution and calculated the coverage of those pumps using mapping techniques. I also conducted interviews about water management for the communities of western Puerto Rico who are in charge of their water supply, rather than the Commonwealth. The research improved the quality and distribution of the water as well as knowledge of the water management system.

Research Interest

Economic policies to address environmental problems and opportunities are often “copy and pasted” from the mainland US to Puerto Rico, without capturing the distinct tropical ecosystem of the island or the distinct social and cultural history. Misapplied designs and consumption systems manifest themselves in a deteriorating environment as evidenced by various indices on air, water pollution and the generation of solid waste. The research explores energy consumption patterns and the CO2 pattern in energy production on the San Juan urban area. The research works in collaboration with the NSF San Juan ULTRA project. Also explore the private and social benefits of selective bans on consumer products as a solution of the energy dependency against the welfare loss of concomitant loss of freedom. Sometimes the loss from freedom is a question of scale. For example, Car Fuel Efficiency Standards (CAFE) allows one to drive cars but not drive fuel-inefficient cars. Others bans are more binary in nature such as local prohibitions against disposable plastic bottles and shopping bags. Such bans are usually the most cost-effective means of reducing environmental impact when close substitutes exist. Extending the previous example, reusable metal bottles or canvas shopping bags imply negligible loss of freedom which is dwarfed by large environmental gains. Such tradeoffs are nothing new in the social contract literature. However, the notion that bans can help define communities is fairly new and best expressed by Harvard Professor Stephen A. Marglin in his 2008 book The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community.

Bans have been marginalized in the policy menu imported to Puerto Rico from the US. The traditional economic approach has been to internalize costs in prices (privatization) or through regulation, usually meaning levying taxes on negative externalities and subsidies for positive externalities. The absence of bans as a policy tool reflects US political ideology and what Nobel Laureate René Dubos would call, the “frontier mentality.” However, the American experience does not coincide with the Puerto Rican experience and so the socioeconomic and cultural aspects of Puerto Rico may make bans politically more feasible than they would be in the US.