During Baka's childhood, a local coal mine was on fire. Community leadership debated how best to handle the fire, which wavered between committing resources to extinguish the fire or to allowing the fire to burn out. As the debate burned on, so did the fire. The resulting fumes and smoke caused adverse respiratory effects for many in the community, who never had a say in the decision-making process.
“I don’t want to forget how policy decisions shape lives, and I want to do my best to help minimize harm,” she said.
Today, Baka works to identify methods to foster synergies between environmental regulation and economic development. Her research not only solicits information from community members, but it informs and empowers people with data so they can be part of the conversation.
“The economy and the environment are too often cast as foes in policymaking,” said Baka, assistant professor in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “Unfortunately, we too often put the brakes on strengthening environmental regulations out of concern that it will translate into job losses. Yet, research shows that increasing environmental regulation has not resulted in widespread job losses across economic sectors. Thus, I’d like to help craft a new narrative that sees the economy and environment as complements.”
In a recent project, Baka has been studying the Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex near Monaca, Pennsylvania (about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh). The complex, which is set to open in 2020, will use ethane extracted from natural gas to create plastic pellets.