The Political Economy Research Institute

The Political Economy Research Institute

Investopedia / Theresa Chiechi

What Is the Political Economy Research Institute?

The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) is a progressive, left-leaning economic think tank at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which conducts economic research intended to influence the public debate and be put into practical policy proposals to improve the quality of human life. Although PERI's research spans many fields, from environmentalism to social causes, one of its most well-known ventures is determining which companies make the Toxic 100 list—the list of the top 100 air polluters in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) is an independent research unit of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  • PERI sponsors economic research, public policy studies, and conferences that focus on various progressive causes, especially the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
  • PERI produces an annual list of the top 100 air-polluting companies in the U.S. and has published several studies promoting the economic benefits of climate change policy.

Understanding the Political Economy Research Institute

Established in 1998, PERI works to conduct research that can be implemented into policy for the greater good. The economist Robert Heilbroner, known for his belief that economics should help improve the well-being of people at work and of the society they work in, once said that PERI "strive[s] to make a workable science out of morality." PERI collaborates with university faculty and students as well as other think tanks and researchers from around the globe, and it is closely linked to the UMass at Amherst's Department of Economics, though it is technically an independent unit of UMass.

PERI's goals include:

PERI's research spans a variety of specialties, but it tends to focus on economic costs, benefits, and solutions and finding ways to implement policy changes that have positive impacts on the ecological system and the economy.

Specific Areas of Research

PERI's research is divided into many categories:

  • Finance, Jobs, and Macroeconomics: Research focuses on the relationships between financial institutions and economic inequality and instability.
  • Environmental and Energy Economics: Research focuses on economic solutions to environmental issues.
  • Economics for the Developing World: Research focuses on economic issues faced by developing countries.
  • Health Policy: Research focuses on economic and social factors that affect health, particularly addressing income support, social policies, and health disparities.

These are just a few of PERI's areas of research, all of which aim to raise awareness, guide public policy discussions, and offer solutions to the problems our world faces. It has also collaborated with the left-wing Center for American Progress in producing and publishing a series of studies on promoting economic growth through government policy to combat climate change. 

The Toxic 100

PERI is perhaps most well-known for its research into the Toxic 100, or the top 100 air polluting companies in the United States. In order to score and rank each company, PERI pulls data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides insight into each company's emissions and toxic waste. Companies must report their chemical emissions data to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Data from the TRI is then used by the EPA's Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) system to determine weighted toxicity levels and the risk to human health.

Toxic scores are determined using the following equation:

 Emissions × Toxicity × Population Exposure \text{Emissions}\times\text{Toxicity}\times\text{Population Exposure} Emissions×Toxicity×Population Exposure