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Karen Clay - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

Karen Clay

Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


Karen Clay’s research examines the growth of the U.S. economy, including energy issues, air pollution, and the impact of climate change.


Karen Clay is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.

She holds courtesy appointments at the Tepper School of Business and in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, is a Senior Fellow at the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon, is an affiliated faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law, and is a research associate at the NBER.

Professor Clay's research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Sloan Foundation. Her work has been published in the Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economics and Statistics, and American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings. Before coming to Carnegie Mellon, Karen Clay was an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Energy Economics

Public Policy

Business and Economics


Environmental Economics

Media Appearances (6)

US neighborhoods with more people of color suffer worse air pollution

The Guardian  print


"A 2021 study led by Karen Clay of Carnegie Mellon University suggested that factors including more frequent wildfires and an increase in the number of miles American vehicles travel have already begun to reverse the progress the US has made in cutting its air pollution."

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In Illinois, a Model for a Just Transition From Coal to Solar

Earth Island Journal  online


Karen Clay, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, believes the shift from polluting power production to renewable energy was a long time coming. Like all economists, Clay also looks at the cost-benefit analysis. Although keeping fossil fuels might save jobs, “the jobs don’t come for free,” she says. The tradeoff is loss of life.

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Keystone XL’s Death Sparks Rush to Ship Oil-Sands by Rail

Bloomberg  online


U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline is sparking renewed interest in shipping Canadian oil-sands crude by rail, and that comes with its own environmental risks.

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America’s Air Is Getting Worse: Here’s Why

Forbes  online


After decades of improving air quality, Carnegie Mellon researchers found that pollution levels are rising across America. A key driver has been the Trump Administration’s all-out assault on environmental regulations. Since taking office, Trump has eliminated or announced plans to eliminate nearly 100 different regulations.

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As millions lose insurance, states cut Medicaid in response to the coronavirus crisis

Salon  online


Karen Clay, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College and the lead author of the study, told Salon that the cuts would impact Americans that are not on Medicaid as well.

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Study: US air pollution deaths increased by 9,700 a year from 2016 to 2018

Vox  online


The researchers, Karen Clay and Nicholas Muller, argue that some of the increase is due to non-regulatory factors, like an increase in wildfires and economic growth. But they note a decline in Clean Air Act enforcement under Donald Trump that could be responsible as well.

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Karen Clay Publication



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Dr. Karen Clay: The Social and Economic Costs of Transporting Crude Oil Pipelines, Trucks, Buses and Automobiles: Where, When, Which? CMU Energy Interview: Karen Clay



Industry Expertise (4)

Writing and Editing

Business Services



Accomplishments (3)

Lone Mountain Fellow (professional)

2019 PERC

Carnegie Mellon Leadership and Negotiation Academy for Women (professional)

2017-2018 sponsored by the Dean and the Provost

Award for Exceptional Service to the Journal of Economic History Editorial Board (professional)


Education (2)

University of Virginia: B.A., Economics 1988

with Highest Honors

Stanford University: Ph.D., Economics 1994

Affiliations (2)

  • Explorations in Economic History : Co-Editor
  • National Bureau for Economic Research : Research Associate, Energy and Environmental Economics

Event Appearances (3)

Flexner Era Medical School Closures, Physician Markets, and Mortality in the United States

NBER Summer Institute  

Air Lead and Infant Mortality

University of Oregon  

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and its Lessons for COVID-19

Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space  

Research Grants (3)

Air Pollution Externalities: Evidence from U.S. Electricity Generation over the Twentieth Century

NSF Grant $238,235


Air Pollution and Environmental Justice in Allegheny County

Heinz Foundation Grant $20,000


Oil and Gas Leasing Behavior

Subcontract from Rand to University of Pittsburgh on NSF Grant $47,592


Articles (5)

The Value of Health Insurance during a Crisis: Effects of Medicaid Implementation on Pandemic Influenza Mortalit

The Review of Economics and Statistics

2022 This paper studies how better access to public health insurance affects infant mortality during pandemics. The analysis combines cross-state variation in mandated eligibility for Medicaid with two influenza pandemics that arrived shortly before and after the program's introduction in 1965.

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Toxic Truth: Lead and Fertility

Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists

2021 Using US county-level data on lead in air for 1978–88, this paper provides the first causal evidence on the effects of airborne lead exposure on the general fertility rate and the completed fertility rate in the broad population. Instrumental variable estimates show an increase in fertility implied by the average observed decrease in airborne lead of about 6% of mean fertility.

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The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Its Lessons for COVID-19

Journal of Economic Literature

2022 This article reviews the global health and economic consequences of the 1918 influenza pandemic, with a particular focus on topics that have seen a renewed interest because of COVID-19. We begin by providing an overview of key contextual and epidemiological details as well as the data that are available to researchers. We then examine the effects on mortality, fertility, and the economy in the short and medium run.

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Laws, educational outcomes, and returns to schooling evidence from the first wave of U.S. state compulsory attendance laws

Labour Economics

2021 The nineteenth and twentieth century saw two waves of state schooling laws. The first wave focused on children to age 14 and the second wave focused on high school. Using the full count 1940 census and a new coding of state laws, this paper provides new estimates of the effects of the first wave of laws.

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Recent Increases in Air Pollution: Evidence and Implications for Mortality

Review of Environmental Economics and Policy

2021 After declining by 27.4 percent from 2009 to 2016, annual average fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the United States in counties with monitors increased by 5.7 percent between 2016 and 2018. Increases occurred in multiple census regions and in counties that were in and out of attainment with National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This article explores channels through which the increase may have occurred, including increases in economic activity, increases in wildfires, and decreases in Clean Air Act enforcement actions.

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