Epstein grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and attended Montgomery County Public Schools. In childhood his favorite subjects were mathematics and science, and in high school he became interested in politics and humanities. He cites Ayn Rand as his greatest influence, having been especially impressed by her novel Atlas Shrugged. Among his other favorite writers is Thomas Sowell.
From 1998 to 2002, Epstein earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Duke University, where for two years he was the editor and publisher of The Duke Review and where he also studied computer science.
After university, Epstein knew that he wanted to be a professional intellectual but also that he did not want to go to graduate school or to work at a university. He became a freelance writer, and two years later joined the Ayn Rand Institute, a non-profit organization in Irvine, California, that promotes Ayn Rand's novels and her philosophy of Objectivism. Epstein was a writer and fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute between 2004 and 2011, where he specialized in business issues. There he became interested in energy issues.
In 2011, Epstein founded the Center for Industrial Progress (CIP), an advocacy group and think tank whose mission is "to bring about a new industrial revolution."
In 2012, Epstein debated American environmentalist Bill McKibben while representing CIP at an event held at Duke University.
In 2013, Rolling Stone placed Epstein and the Center for Industrial Progress on their list of top Global Warming Deniers. Epstein wrote a rebuttal to the piece in Forbes, in which he refutes Rolling Stone's characterization of his views and mocks the piece for including scientifically inaccurate information.
In 2014, Epstein and CIP publicly supported the Keystone Pipeline.
In 2016, Epstein testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at the invitation of the committee's chairman, James Inhofe (R-OK). Epstein suggested that rising carbon dioxide levels "benefit plants and Americans." His remarks prompted committee member Barbara Boxer to protest Epstein's appearance. "You're a philosopher and not a scientist," Boxer protested, "and I don't appreciate being lectured by a philosopher and not a scientist."
Epstein has contributed to several media outlets regarding climate and energy issues, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Fox News. Epstein and CIP challenge the belief that the consumption of fossil fuels harms human life, arguing that recent gains in public health and safety were achieved not in spite of mankind's reliance on carbon energy but, in large measure, because of it.
CIP has a popular design titled "I Love Fossil Fuels" (stylized "I ❤ Fossil Fuels"), which appears on a variety of items, such as t-shirts, lapel pins, and neckties.
In 2014, Epstein’s book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels was published by Penguin Random House. In the book, Epstein posits that experts and laymen alike greatly underestimate the benefits of fossil fuels while greatly overestimating their costs. He makes the distinction between "humanists"—"someone on a human standard of value, [who] treats the rest of nature as something to use for his benefit"—and a "nonhumanist", who "treats the rest of nature as something that must be served."
The book received mostly positive reviews, published by The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Reason, Fox News, Barron's, The Washington Free Beacon, The Morning Sun, the Independent Institute, The Heartland Institute, and several blogs. Most of these reviews praise Epstein for his ability to approach the issues of climate change and fossil fuels from a logical perspective amid widespread misinformation on the issues.
Critical reviews can be found in Inside Higher Ed, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Our World, a publication of the United Nations University. Most of these reviews allege that Epstein has a close association with conservative advocacy groups and receives funding from the Koch brothers. They also claim that Epstein's pro-carbon opinions run counter to the prevailing scientific conclusion that the rise of greenhouse gasses is catastrophic rather than a net good for the future of the globe.
In 2014, Epstein was interviewed by Peter Thiel at an event hosted by the energy startup Tachyus. Thiel also provided a blurb for the book.
In December 2014, political commentator John McLaughlin called Epstein "most original thinker of the year" for his book during his yearly The McLaughlin Group roundup.