Effective Environmental Policy in the Presence of Distorting Taxes

EPA Grant Number: R825313
Title: Effective Environmental Policy in the Presence of Distorting Taxes
Investigators: Burtraw, Dallas , Parry, Ian , Goulder, Lawrence
Institution: Resources for the Future , Stanford University
Current Institution: Resources for the Future , National Bureau of Economic Research , Stanford University
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: October 1, 1996 through September 30, 1998
Project Amount: $200,000
RFA: Decision-Making and Valuation for Environmental Policy (1996) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice


This research will investigate the economic cost of policy instruments for environmental protection in the presence of preexisting distortionary taxes. Recent literature has identified the potentially significant indirect economic cost that an environmental tax has when there are preexisting distortionary taxes in factor markets such as capital and labor. This cost counteracts the anticipated benefits that might follow from recycling revenue raised by an environmental tax to reduce preexisting taxes.

The insight that motivates this proposal is that environmental policies that do not raise revenues nonetheless are likely to impose a cost through their interactions with preexisting taxes just as would an environmental tax. However, they forgo the potential benefit from recycling environmental tax revenues. In this research we will focus primarily on the comparison of revenue-raising and nonrevenue-raising instruments in various settings in evaluating their economic cost in achieving a stated environmental goal.

This proposal has two parts; each part will involve all three investigators. The part to be funded by NSF will focus on the regulation of a single pollutant in the presence of preexisting taxes in factor markets. We will use an analytical model to advance the understanding of the interactions between environmental policy and the tax system. We will complement the theoretical model with numerical models to deal with some more complex interconnections that cannot be examined analytically. The numerical models will consider the costs of existing and potential policies for reducing air emissions of particular pollutants such as CO2 and SO2 in the U.S. economy.

The second part will be funded by EPA and will extend the analysis of preexisting distortions in factor markets to consider preexisting distortions in an industry that is immediately subject to environmental regulation. We will model the institutional setting of the U.S. electric utility industry to consider the regulation of multiple pollutants, other environmental policies special to the industry, and various forms imperfect competition and market structure that may characterize ongoing changes in the industry.

Our initial research on this topic suggests there are striking and important differences between the economic performance of alternative instruments when they are evaluated in the context of preexisting distortionary taxes. The results of this research project should advance the understanding of the economic cost of environmental regulation, and especially the design of policies to minimize that cost.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 60 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 7 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

valuation, cost-benefit, RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, climate change, Economics, decision-making, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, air pollution policy, carbon sequestration, ecosystem valuation, environmental tax, valuation, decision analysis, economic benefits, environmental values, emissions quotas, environmental policy, government regulatory costs, compliance costs, public policy, regulations

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1997 Progress Report
  • Final Report