Every aspect of economic activity a%ects greenhouse gas emissions and, hence, the global climate. Since individuals and businesses bear virtually no cost for emitting greenhouse gases in the absence of public policy, and thus have no incentive to reduce these emissions, the government has a strong case for climate change policy. US policymakers may choose among three general approaches to drive more climate-friendly economic activity: (1) subsidise businesses and individuals to invest in and use lower-emitting goods and services; (2) mandate businesses and individuals to change their behaviour regarding technology choice and emissions; or (3) price the greenhouse gas externality, so that decisions take account of this external cost. Let’s consider these options in turn.
The mad cow disease crisis in the United Kingdom (U.K.) was a major policy disaster. The government and public health officials failed to identify the risk to humans, created tremendous uncertainty regarding the human risks once they were identified, and undertook a series of policies that undermined public trust. In contrast, the mad cow disease risk never became a major problem in the United States (U.S.). The lead time that the U.S. had in responding to the disease that was first identified in the U.K. assisted in planning the policy response to avert a crisis. The absence of a comparable U.S. crisis, however, does not imply that the U.S. risk management approach was a success. Until recently, there was no systematic assessment of the domestic risks of mad cow disease. Moreover, U.S. government agencies have never undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the benefits and costs of any U.S. regulation dealing with mad cow disease. The absence of a sound economic basis for policy is reflected in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ill-considered decision to prohibit the private testing of beef for mad cow disease. This decision disadvantaged companies that sought such testing in order to comply with foreign testing regulations. In the absence of such testing, U.S. beef exports plummeted. One company that attempted to implement a testing program launched a legal challenge to the USDA prohibition and was unsuccessful. The policy failures in both the U.K. and the U.S. provide several lessons for regulating invasive species risks and dealing with emerging risks more generally. We conclude with a series of ten public policy lessons for dealing with similar emerging risks.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2013). Designing the Post-Kyoto Climate Regime. In J. Stiglitz & M. Kaldor (Ed.), The Quest for Security: Protection without Protectionism and the Challenge of Global Governance . Columbia University Press.
Aldy, J. E., & Patashnik, J. (2013). Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies. In M. Greenstone, M. Harris, K. Li, & A. Looney (Ed.), 15 Ways to Rethink the Federal Budget (pp. 31-35) . The Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution.Full Text.pdf
Because of the global commons nature of climate change, international cooperation among nations will likely be necessary for meaningful action at the global level. At the same time, it will inevitably be up to the actions of sovereign nations to put in place policies that bring about meaningful reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Due to the ubiquity and diversity of emissions of greenhouse gases in most economies, as well as the variation in abatement costs among individual sources, conventional environmental policy approaches, such as uniform technology and performance standards, are unlikely to be sufficient to the task. Therefore, attention has increasingly turned to market-based instruments in the form of carbon-pricing mechanisms. We examine the opportunities and challenges associated with the major options for carbon pricing: carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, emission reduction credits, clean energy standards, and fossil fuel subsidy reductions.
Emissions of greenhouse gases linked with global climate change are affected by diverse aspects of economic activity, including individual consumption, business investment, and government spending. An effective climate policy will have to modify the decision calculus for these activities in the direction of more efficient generation and use of energy, lower carbon intensity of energy, and – more broadly – a more carbon-lean economy. The only approach to doing this on a meaningful scale that would be technically feasible and cost-effective is carbon pricing, that is, market-based climate policies that place a shadow-price on carbon dioxide emissions. We examine alternative designs of three such instruments – carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, and clean energy standards. We note that the U.S. political response to possible market-based approaches to climate policy has been and will continue to be largely a function of issues and structural factors that transcend the scope of environmental and climate policy.
In 2010 and 2011, Republicans and Democrats proposed mandating clean power generation in the electricity sector [1,2,3,]. To evaluate public support for a national clean energy standard (NCES), we conducted a nationally representative survey that included randomized treatments on the sources of eligible power generation and program costs. We find that the average American is willing to pay $162 per year in higher electricity bills (95% confidence interval: $128 $260), representing a 13% increase , in support of a NCES that requires 80% clean energy by 2035. Support for a NCES is lower among non‐whites, older individuals, and Republicans. We also employ our statistical model, along with census data for each state and Congressional district , to simulate voting behavior on a NCES by Members of Congress assuming they vote consistent with the preferences of their median voter. We estimate that Senate passage of a NCES would require an average household cost below $59 per year, while House passage would require costs below $48 per year. The results imply that an “80% by 2035” NCES could pass both chambers of Congress if it increases electricity rates less than 5% on average.
Despite bipartisan interest in advancing American energy policy, comprehensive energy and climate legislation fell short in the Senate last year after passing in the House of Representatives in 2009. The difficulty of coming to broad agreement highlights the need for a more targeted and incremental approach. One promising intermediate step would be a technology-neutral national clean energy standard that applies to the U.S. power sector. This paper proposes a standard that would lower carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 60 percent relative to 2005 levels over twenty years, streamline the fragmented regulatory system that is currently in place, generate fiscal benefits, and help fund energy innovation. Through a simple design and transparent implementation, the National Clean Energy Standard would provide certainty about the economic returns to clean energy that would facilitate investment in new energy projects and lower the emission intensity of the power sector. It would also serve as an ambitious bridge to economy-wide energy and climate policy
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill posed near-term economic risks to the Gulf of Mexico region and raised questions about appropriate policies to mitigate catastrophic oil spill risks. This essay reviews the Obama Administration’s assessment of the economic vulnerabilities to the spill, the Administration’s May 12, 2010 legislative proposal focused on minimizing the adverse economic impacts to workers and small businesses in the Gulf of Mexico, and the effort to secure an agreement with BP to ensure that those harmed by the spill will receive full compensation. Then, the essay discusses several of the policy reforms advanced by the Administration to reduce the risks of future catastrophic oil spills, including the value of an industry consortium to provide deepwater well containment resources and the need to remove the arbitrary limit on liability for economic damages from offshore drilling. The essay closes with a few policy lessons learned from the spill.
This paper provides (for the nonspecialist) a highly streamlined discussion of the main issues, and controversies, in the design of climate mitigation policy. The first part of the paper discusses how much action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the global level is efficient under both the cost-effectiveness and welfare-maximizing paradigms. We then discuss various issues in the implementation of domestic emissions control policy, instrument choice, and incentives for technological innovation. Finally, we discuss alternative policy architectures at the international level.
Regulations designed to increase homeland security often require balancing large costs against highly uncertain benefits. An important component of these benefits is the reduced risk of fatalities from terrorist attacks. While the risk to an individual appears small, the benefits may be large when aggregated over the population. U.S. regulatory agencies have well-established approaches for valuing mortality risks, but address risks that differ in significant respects from those associated with terrorism. The best available estimates of the value of small risk reductions, expressed as the value per statistical life (VSL), average about $6.5 million. However, terrorism-related risks may be perceived as more dreaded and ambiguous, and less controllable and voluntary, than the workplace risks underlying many VSL estimates. These factors may increase the VSL appropriate for terrorism risks, possibly doubling the value.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2010). Introduction. In J. E. Aldy & R. N. Stavins (Ed.), Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Implementing Architectures for Agreement (pp. 1-28) . Cambridge University Press.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2010). Lessons for the International Policy Community. In J. E. Aldy & R. N. Stavins (Ed.), Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Implementing Architectures for Agreement (pp. 899-929) . Cambridge University Press.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2009). Introduction and Overview. In J. E. Aldy & R. N. Stavins (Ed.), Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Summary for Policymakers (pp. 1-25) . Cambridge University Press.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2009). Lessons for the International Policy Community. In J. E. Aldy & R. N. Stavins (Ed.), Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Summary for Policymakers (pp. 27-55) . Cambridge University Press.