This year, the nation faced fundamental questions about how we govern our economy and society — particularly how we formulate public policy.
In 2022, we saw Russian President Vladimir Putin initiate war in Europe and the resulting geopolitical energy fallout. We observed the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the domestic economy recovered. We witnessed mass shootings almost daily in communities across the United States. We watched health care costs rise and the end of Roe v. Wade.
Indeed, the world faces significant challenges. And with complex challenges, the demand for nonpartisan, fact-based policy research is greater than ever before.
This June, after 42 years of service as a foreign diplomat, I left my final posts as U.S. ambassador to Turkey and special envoy for the Horn of Africa. I moved to Houston and assumed the role of director at the Baker Institute. I am incredibly grateful to work alongside a team so committed to our mission.
The strong reputation of the Baker Institute is a testament to the vision of Secretary James A. Baker, III, and the steady leadership of Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, the institute's founding director. For 28 years, Ambassador Djerejian grew and shaped the institute into the world-renowned organization it is today.
As we look to 2023 — the 30th year of the institute — I am energized about opportunities to build upon this impressive foundation of excellence. Given the challenges facing our world, we have a special responsibility to provide nonpartisan, trusted policy research to inform the path forward.
The Baker Institute made many contributions in 2022 — too many to list here. I am pleased to share 10 highlights of our work that I believe illustrate our impact in 2022.
1. Confronting Geopolitics and Energy Security
Over the past year, energy security and geopolitics leapt to the forefront globally as international events unfolded — including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the resulting spikes in global energy prices and the OPEC+ decision to cut production in the fall of 2022.
This year, the energy fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war was front and center — including how to replace increasingly sanctioned Russian oil and natural gas. As the world explored options to try to close the natural gas gap in Europe, our experts highlighted the growing importance of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe and the prospects for growth in U.S. shale.
The global climate policy schism between wealthy developed nations and the much poorer and energy-hungry developing world continued from the previous year. One bright spot for non-OPEC oil growth was highlighted by the visit of the energy minister of Guyana, whose offshore oil production is rapidly growing, to Houston. Our experts also investigated the political headwinds limiting international oil companies’ ability to help the rest of Latin America expand their oil and gas production.
As the U.S. considered bolstering the supply chains necessary for energy transitions, the role of China was a key focus of our research in 2022. Developing the minerals, materials and manufacturing basis for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries presents monumental challenges — largely because these supply chains are reliant upon China. Our research also examined the waste management issues of these supply chains for solar and other alternative energy sources.
2. Analyzing U.S. Energy Policies and Economics
The year 2022 saw the passage of massive subsidies to decarbonize the U.S. economy while President Joe Biden called to ramp up domestic production of oil, natural gas and gasoline to moderate energy price spikes.
As Congress passed the president’s aggressive decarbonization plan, our experts examined the challenges of running the Texas electricity grid in the aftermath of the blackouts during the winter storm of 2021 and the growing role of intermittent, non-dispatchable solar and wind power. We convened expert groups to dig into the future of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen in helping to decarbonize heavy industry. Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast are well situated to lead CCUS and hydrogen efforts, given the region's concentration of industry, abundance of engineering capability and existing infrastructure.
3. Advancing Drug Policy Reform
The overdose epidemic in the U.S. has forced a reckoning with the nation’s drug strategy. This has created an opportunity to build consensus around meaningful change by advancing fact-based solutions. Through research and bipartisan government engagement, our experts have provided much-needed facts and analysis to the national debate.
Reducing overdoses requires a multipronged approach that prevents death in the short term while also expanding access to long-term treatment and prevention services. Our experts highlighted proven strategies that could help reduce the risks of overdose deaths, such as legalizing fentanyl test strips and other drug-checking tools.
As cannabis legalization advances around the country, unanswered questions remain about the broader public policy implications — such as public health, tax revenue and legal system outcomes. Our research and commentary explored the relationship between legalization and the criminal legal system, including arrest trends and legally mandated referrals to drug treatment.
4. Lowering the Costs of Health Care and Health Insurance
The high cost of health care and health insurance continued to affect the lives of families across the United States. This year, our experts published research exploring the determinants of high emergency room costs. One study considered whether adding new trauma centers in Texas could help to mitigate high prices. Researchers also explored hospital price transparency rules, and published research comparing the costs of standard procedures across top-ranked hospitals and their close competitors in Texas.
Our research also analyzed the costs of health care. Our scholars published extensive work for both academic and consumer audiences about the importance of acquiring affordable health insurance.
5. Confronting Mass Shootings in the U.S.
Today, gun violence is the leading cause of death in children in the United States. The Baker Institute launched the Firearm Injury Prevention and Safety initiative to reduce and prevent firearm injury and death. In June — just weeks after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — the Baker Institute held the first annual Firearm Injury Prevention and Safety Symposium. The event featured a keynote address from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, as well as over a dozen speakers — including researchers, health care practitioners, policymakers, law enforcement and representatives from community-based organizations.
6. Providing Nonpartisan Perspectives on U.S. Politics and Elections
On the heels of the 2020 election, the nation continues to adjust to the changed dynamics and public discourse around elections in the United States. Our experts provided commentary — locally and nationally — on political dynamics in Texas and across the country. Our trusted, nonpartisan perspective allowed stakeholders of all political parties and groups to better understand the changing dynamics of democracy in America.
7. Fostering Post-pandemic Economic Growth
In 2022, our research explored the role of small businesses and innovative startups in fostering economic growth and ways to improve the prospects for growth through policies that support private entrepreneurship. We studied tax policies and tax systems that promote entrepreneurship and reduce the costs of compliance for small enterprises. We published a study that assessed the impact of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s Paycheck Protection Program, which was established during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide low-interest loans to small businesses.
Our research explored the role of government — including monetary and tax policies — and the market in providing capital to small businesses. We published recommendations to improve the SBA’s 7(a) loan program. We also looked at emerging financial marketplaces, including the cryptocurrency market and the emerging use of blockchain technology — and the potential for possible regulations. Ultimately, these innovations could improve access to capital for small business lending.
8. Understanding the U.S.-Mexico Relationship
Understanding the binational partnership between the U.S. and Mexico is crucial for navigating challenges affecting people on both sides of the border. Our groundbreaking work on immigration trends and border issues continued in 2022. Our publications explored the nexus of mental health and immigration, as well as strategies to protect climate refugees. Experts argued for the expansion of U.S. work permits to address labor shortages.
Our research also examined U.S.-Mexico economic and energy issues. We highlighted the importance of Mexican education reform to boost future economic growth and provided expert insight into potential trade deals. Our annual Mexico Country Outlook predicted the dominant economic and political issues for the coming year. Amid the global energy crisis, our experts projected the potential for energy self-sufficiency in Mexico and considered how energy transitions might impact U.S. and Mexican energy policies.
9. Improving Science Advice and Trust
In 2022, our Civic Scientist Lecture Series highlighted how scientists can use their knowledge and skills to promote science as a public good. This year, we welcomed the director of the National Science Foundation, the Honorable Sethuraman Panchanathan, to Baker Hall as part of Rice University President Reginald DesRoches’ Investiture Program. We launched a digital archive of presidential briefing materials that helped shape federal science policy since 1988, including memos, photos, reports and documents provided directly from presidential science advisors.
We published a series of research items addressing vaccine equity, hesitancy and the future of vaccine policy in Texas. Our one-day symposium on Texas vaccine policy challenges highlighted the latest research and public debates.
Our experts monitored trends in emerging biotechnology and regenerative medicine and provided important insight and analysis. We published an article analyzing U.S. policies related to research using embryos and cell-based embryo models and highlighted gaps in federal policies that need to be addressed. We also published a series of reports for academic and consumer audiences on the harms of unproven stem cell interventions.
10. Training the Next Generation of Policy Leaders
Students are crucial contributors to the Baker Institute’s work. This year, over 50 students served as interns and research assistants exploring a variety of public policy issues, from urban revitalization in Houston’s Third Ward to displacement due to climate change in East Africa. In turn, they learned critical skills in research, policymaking and communications — the kinds of opportunities that are key for cultivating the next generation of informed citizens and policy leaders.
This material may be quoted or reproduced without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given to the author and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The views expressed herein are those of the individual author(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.