Our Expert Staff

WRA’s team of experts has three decades of working where decisions are made, sweating the details, creating evidence-based solutions, and holding decision makers accountable.

John Nielsen

John Nielsen

Vice President of Policy and Programs


Senior Leadership

Office Location

Boulder, Colorado

Area of Focus

John guides the development of long-term strategic plans that align WRA’s vision, culture, and strategy to advance an ambitious and focused conservation agenda in the Western United States.

For more than two decades, Nielsen has been at the intersection of environmental and economic policy working to develop innovative solutions to the West’s most challenging conservation issues. Through his leadership, WRA created the framework that has allowed Interior West states to rapidly phase out coal generation in favor of cleaner energy sources, greatly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Working with state and federal environmental regulators, he has helped guide technical and policy analysis demonstrating the important role that renewable energy and energy efficiency could play in reducing greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants. He helped design the first green marketing programs in the region, making it possible for electricity customers to choose renewable energy rather than fossil fuels to meet their energy needs and was instrumental in developing Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard and strengthening it over the years.


Leading a team of more than 40 individuals across seven states, John has been with the organization since 1995. Before taking on his current role, he directed WRA’s Clean Energy Program for many years. As an economist, he came to WRA with a passion to fuse two broad interests: the environment and how economics shapes our society. While academics led him to the latter, it was Nielsen’s childhood that fostered a love of the land. A Colorado native, whose family farmed and ranched in Southeastern Colorado, Nielsen has a deep appreciation for the West and a desire to protect it.


In 2015, John was awarded the Air & Waste Management Association’s Richard Beatty Mellon Environmental Stewardship Award, which is granted annually to an individual or organization who has aided substantially in reducing pollution. He was also a co-recipient of the 2011 Wirth Chair Creative Collaborations in Sustainability Award for his work on the Clean Air-Clean Jobs act and a co-recipient of the 2002 American Wind Energy Association’s Wind Advocacy Award for his work in support of Colorado’s Amendment 37 – the nation’s first citizen-initiated renewable energy standard – as well as other renewable energy policies in the state.

John has served on boards and councils around the region, including the Interwest Energy Alliance, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), Utah Clean Energy, and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. He has testified before state legislative committees and state regulatory commissions, has authored articles and reports on clean energy development and its pollution-reducing benefits, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and proceedings on energy and environmental issues.


  • Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Master of Philosophy in Economics from Yale University

Favorite thing about the West

Big skies

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