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Using Loopholes to Reveal the Marginal Cost of Regulation: The Case of Fuel-Economy Standards

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  • Soren T. Anderson
  • James M. Sallee

Abstract

Estimating the cost of regulation is difficult. Firms sometimes reveal costs indirectly, however, when they exploit loopholes to avoid regulation. We apply this insight to fuel economy standards for automobiles. These standards feature a loophole that gives automakers a bonus when they equip a vehicle with flexible-fuel capacity. Profitmaximizing automakers will equate the marginal cost of compliance using the loophole, which is observable, with the unobservable costs of strategies that genuinely improve fuel economy. Based on this insight, we estimate that tightening standards by one mile per gallon would have cost automakers just $9-$27 per vehicle in recent years. (JEL L51, L62, Q48)

Suggested Citation

  • Soren T. Anderson & James M. Sallee, 2011. "Using Loopholes to Reveal the Marginal Cost of Regulation: The Case of Fuel-Economy Standards," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1375-1409, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:101:y:2011:i:4:p:1375-1409
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James M. Sallee, 2011. "The Surprising Incidence of Tax Credits for the Toyota Prius," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 189-219, May.
    2. Ian W. H. Parry & Margaret Walls & Winston Harrington, 2007. "Automobile Externalities and Policies," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(2), pages 373-399, June.
    3. Austin, David & Dinan, Terry, 2005. "Clearing the air: The costs and consequences of higher CAFE standards and increased gasoline taxes," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 562-582, November.
    4. Andrew N. Kleit, 2004. "Impacts of Long-Range Increases in the Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standard," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 42(2), pages 279-294, April.
    5. Rubin, Jonathan & Leiby, Paul, 2000. "An analysis of alternative fuel credit provisions of US automotive fuel economy standards," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 28(9), pages 589-601, July.
    6. Tol, Richard S. J., 2005. "The marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions: an assessment of the uncertainties," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(16), pages 2064-2074, November.
    7. Carol Corrado & Wendy E. Dunn & Maria Ward Otoo, 2006. "Incentives and prices for motor vehicles: what has been happening in recent years?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2006-09, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    8. Stephen P. Holland & Jonathan E. Hughes & Christopher R. Knittel, 2009. "Greenhouse Gas Reductions under Low Carbon Fuel Standards?," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 106-146, February.
    9. Sarah E. West & Roberton C. Williams III, 2005. "The Cost of Reducing Gasoline Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 294-299, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L62 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Automobiles; Other Transportation Equipment; Related Parts and Equipment
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy

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