Journal Articles

Working Paper
Aldy, J. E., & Houde, S. (Working Paper). The Efficiency Consequences of Heterogeneous Behavioral Responses to Energy Fiscal Policies. NBER Working Paper Series.Abstract

The behavioral responses to taxes and subsidies are often subject to various behavioral biases and transaction costs—what we define as “microfrictions.” We develop a theoretical framework to show how these microfrictions—and their heterogeneity across the population and policy instruments—affect the design of Pigouvian policies. Standard Pigouvian pricing still holds with transaction costs, but requires adjustment with behavioral biases. We use transaction-level data from the US appliance market to estimate the heterogeneous behavioral responses to an array of energy fiscal policies and to quantify microfrictions. We then assess optimal fiscal policies and find that it is rarely optimal to couple a Pigouvian tax on energy with an investment subsidy in this context. We also find that energy labels—intended to increase the salience of energy information—can interact in perverse ways with both taxes and subsidies.

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Aldy, J. E., Gerarden, T. D., & Sweeney, R. L. (Working Paper). Investment Versus Output Subsidies: Implications of Alternative Incentives for Wind Energy. NBER Working Paper Series.Abstract
This paper examines the choice between subsidizing investment or output to promote socially desirable production. We exploit a natural experiment in which wind farm developers could choose an investment or output subsidy to estimate the impact of these instruments on productivity. Using regression discontinuity and matching estimators, we find that wind farms claiming the investment subsidy produced 10 to 11 percent less power than wind farms claiming the output subsidy, and that this effect reflects subsidy incentives rather than selection. The introduction of investment subsidies caused the Federal government to spend 12 percent more per unit of output from wind farms.
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Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (Forthcoming). Rolling the Dice in the Corridors of Power: William Nordhaus's Impacts on Climate Change Policy. Climate Change Economics. rwp20-022_aldy_stavins.pdf
Aldy, J. E., Auffhammer, M., Cropper, M., Fraas, A., & Morgenstern, R. (Forthcoming). Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act. Resources for the Future , Working Paper 20-01. Full Text
Aldy, J. E., & Zeckhauser, R. (2020). Three Prongs for Prudent Climate Policy. Southern Economic Journal , (DOI: 10.1002/soej.12433). Full Text.pdf
Aldy, J. E., & Armitage, S. (2020). The Cost-effectiveness Implications of Carbon Price Certainty. American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings , (110), 113-118. Full Text.pdf
Aldy, J. E., Kotchen, M., Fowlie, M., Levinson, A., & Palmer, K. (2020). Deep Flaws in a Mercury Regulatory Analysis. Science . Full Text.pdf
Aldy, J. E. (2020). Carbon Tax Review and Updating: Institutionalizing an Act-Learn-Act Approach to U.S. Climate Policy. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy , 14 (1), 76-94. Full Text
Aldy, J. E. (2019). Can a Carbon Tax Be Designed to Benefit Low-Income Households? The Environmental Forum , (Sept/Oct 2019), 15. Full Text
Aldy, J. E. (2019). Birds of a Feather: Estimating the Value of Statistical Life from dual-earner families. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty. Full Text
Aldy, J. E. (2017). Real world headwinds for Trump climate change policy. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , 1-6.Abstract
It has now been 12 months since Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, a man who as a candidate for the job called the scientific evidence for climate change “a hoax,” vowed to deregulate the American economy from what he considered to be onerous oversight, and bring back jobs that he claimed were lost as a result of the effort to combat the rise in global atmospheric temperatures. So, now is a good time to examine the president’s words and deeds regarding climate change – a sort of first-year job performance review or report card. What has he been able to accomplish? Has he laid a foundation for a successful agenda? And what are the most significant challenges to his energy and climate policy objectives?
Aldy, J. E., Hafstead, M., Metcalf, G. E., Murray, B. C., Pizer, W. A., Reichert, C., & III., R. C. W. (2017). Resolving the Inherent Uncertainty of Carbon Taxes: Introduction. Harvard Environmental Law Review Forum , 41, 1-13. Full_Paper.pdf
Aldy, J. E. (2017). Designing and Updating a US Carbon Tax in an Uncertain World. Harvard Environmental Law Review Forum , 41, 28-40.Abstract

A carbon tax provides certainty about the price of emissions, but it does so in a context characterized by uncertainty about its environmental benefits, economic costs, and international relations implications. Given current knowledge, suppose that the government sets a carbon tax schedule. In the future, a higher (lower) carbon tax could be justified by the resolution of uncertainty along the following ways: climate change turns out to be worse (better) than current projections; the economic costs of a carbon tax are lower (higher) than expected; other major economies implement more (less) ambitious carbon mitigation programs. This paper describes the design of a predictable process for updating the carbon tax in light of new information. Under this “structured discretion” approach, every five years the president would recommend an adjustment to the carbon tax based on analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of State on the environmental, economic, and diplomatic dimensions of climate policy. Similar to the expedited, streamlined consideration of regulations under the Congressional Review Act and trade deals under trade promotion authority, Congress would vote up or down on the presidential recommendation for a carbon tax adjustment, without the prospect of filibuster or amendment. This process could be synchronized with the timing of updating of nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement in a manner to leverage greater emissions mitigation ambition by other countries in future pledging rounds. The communication of guiding information and the latest data and analysis could serve as “forward guidance” for carbon tax adjustments, akin to the Federal Reserve Board’s communication strategy.

Houde, S., & Aldy, J. E. (2017). Consumers' Response to State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Programs. American Economic Journal - Economic Policy , 9 (4), 227-255.Abstract

Through an evaluation of the 2009 Recovery Act’s State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, this paper examines consumers’ response to energy efficiency rebates. The analysis shows that 70 percent of consumers claiming a rebate were inframarginal and an additional 15 percent–20 percent of consumers simply delayed their purchases by a few weeks. Consumers responded to rebates by upgrading to higher quality, but less energy-efficient models. Overall the impact of the program on long-term energy demand is likely to be small. Measures of government expenditure per unit of energy saved are an order of magnitude higher than estimates for other energy efficiency programs.

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Aldy, J. E. (2017). Frameworks for Evaluating Policy Approaches to Address the Competitiveness Concerns of Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions. National Tax Journal , 70 (2), 395-420.Abstract

Domestic carbon pricing policies may impose adverse competitiveness risks on energy-intensive firms competing with foreign firms that may bear a lower carbon price. The risks of competitiveness effects include adverse economic and environmental outcomes, which can undermine political support for carbon pricing. Competitiveness policies, such as border tax adjustments, output-based tax credits, and related policies, also carry potential risks: unfavorable distributional outcomes, less cost-effective, and harming international trade and climate negotiations. This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical research on competitiveness risks and the risks posed by competitiveness policies, and presents two alternative frameworks for evaluating competitiveness policy options.

Aldy, J. E. (2016). Political Economy of Clinton's Ambitious Energy Program. Nature Energy , 1 (10). Full Paper.pdf
Aldy, J. E., Pizer, W., Tavoni, M., Reis, L. A., Akimoto, K., Blanford, G., Carraro, C., et al. (2016). Economic Tools to Promote Transparency and Comparability in the Paris Agreement. Nature Climate Change.Abstract

The Paris Agreement culminates a six-year transition toward an international climate policy architecture based on parties submitting national pledges every five years. An important policy task will be to assess and compare these contributions. We use four integrated assessment models to produce metrics of Paris Agreement pledges, and show differentiated effort across countries: wealthier countries pledge to undertake greater emission reductions with higher costs. The pledges fall in the lower end of the distributions of the social cost of carbon (SCC) and the cost-minimizing path to limiting warming to 2⁰C, suggesting insufficient global ambition in light of leaders’ climate goals. Countries’ marginal abatement costs vary by two orders of magnitude, illustrating that large efficiency gains are available through joint mitigation efforts and/or carbon price coordination.  Marginal costs rise almost proportionally with income, but full policy costs reveal more complex regional patterns due to terms of trade effects.

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Aldy, J. E., & Pizer, W. A. (2016). Alternative Metrics for Comparing Domestic Climate Change Mitigation Efforts and the Emerging International Climate Policy Architecture. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy , 10 (1), 3-24.Abstract

The availability of practical mechansims for comparing domestic efforts aimed at mitigating global climate change are important for the stability, equity, and efficiency of international climate agreements. We examine a variety of metrics that could be used to compare countries’ climate change mitigation efforts and illustrate their potential application to large developed and developing countries. Because there is no single comprehensive, measurable metric that could be applied to all countries, we suggest using a set of indicators to characterize and compare mitigation effort, akin to using a set of economic statistics to indicate the health of the macroeconomy. Given the iterative pledge and review approach that is emerging in the current climate change negotiations, participation, commitment, and compliance could be enhanced if this set of indicators is able to show that all parties are doing their “fair share,” both prospectively and retrospectively. The latter, in particular, highlights the need for a well-functioning policy surveillance regime.

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Aldy, J. E., Pizer, W. A., & Akimoto, K. (2016). Comparing Emissions Mitigation Efforts across Countries. Climate Policy.Abstract

A natural outcome of the emerging pledge and review approach to international climate change policy is the interest in comparing mitigation efforts among countries. Domestic publics and stakeholders will have an interest in knowing if peer countries are undertaking (or planning to undertake) comparable efforts in mitigating their greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, if the aggregate efforts are considered inadequate in addressing the risks posed by climate change, then this will likely prompt a broader interest in identifying those countries where greater efforts are arguably warranted based on comparison with their peers. Both assessments require metrics of efforts and comparisons among countries. We propose a framework for such an exercise, drawing from a set of principles for designing and implementing informative metrics. We present a template for organizing metrics on mitigation efforts, for both ex ante and ex post review. We also provide preliminary assessments of efforts along emissions, price, and cost metrics for post-2020 climate policy contributions by China, the European Union, Russia, and the United States. We close with a discussion of the role of academics and civil society in promoting transparency and facilitating the evaluation and comparison of efforts.

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Aldy, J. E. (2016). Mobilizing Political Action on Behalf of Future Generations: The Case of Climate Change Policy. The Future of Children, Issue on Climate Change , 26 (1).Abstract

By nearly any perspective, insufficient effort has been undertaken to address the risks posed by global climate change. This failure to mobilize sufficient effort to combat climate change reflects the difficult political economy that characterizes the problem. To grossly simplify the problem, the challenge is that future, unborn generations will enjoy the benefits of climate policy while the current generation, and in particular those reaping substantial returns from a status quo that fails to address climate change, will bear the costs. In this paper, I describe the returns to narrowlydefined business capital and a broad concept of capital – physical capital, human capital, environmental capital, social capital, etc. – to illustrate differences in investment incentives and hence political economy considerations for those engaged in climate policy debates. While the standard economist’s prescription to price the externality could align private and societal investment incentives and ensure that future generations have the opportunities to enjoy a standard of living at least as good as the current generation, it must confront the political economy that the costs of changing prices are borne primarily by the current generation and concentrated among incumbent firms and the benefits are enjoyed disproportionately by future generations and emerging insurgent firms that aim to bring new technologies to market and capture the incumbents’ market share. Tailoring the design of climate policy to mollify the incumbents in opposition and to leverage the potential of the insurgents to build broad political support will be necessary to mobilize successful political action to combat climate change.

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