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Markets for Pollution Allowances: What Are the (New) Lessons?

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  • Lawrence H. Goulder

Abstract

About 45 years ago a few economists offered the novel idea of trading pollution rights as a way of meeting environmental goals. Such trading was touted as a more cost-effective alternative to traditional forms of regulation, such as specific technology requirements or performance standards. The principal form of trading in pollution rights is a cap-and-trade system, whose essential elements are few and simple: first, the regulatory authority specifies the cap—the total pollution allowed by all of the facilities covered by the regulatory program; second, the regulatory authority distributes the allowances, either by auction or through free provision; third, the system provides for trading of allowances. Since the 1980s the use of cap and trade has grown substantially. In this overview article, I consider some key lessons about when cap-and-trade programs work well, when they perform less effectively, how they work compared with other policy options, and how they might need to be modified to address issues that had not been anticipated.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence H. Goulder, 2013. "Markets for Pollution Allowances: What Are the (New) Lessons?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(1), pages 87-102, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:1:p:87-102
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.1.87
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.27.1.87
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Goulder, Lawrence H. & Hafstead, Marc A.C. & Dworsky, Michael, 2010. "Impacts of alternative emissions allowance allocation methods under a federal cap-and-trade program," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 161-181, November.
    2. A. Lans Bovenberg & Lawrence H. Goulder & Derek J. Gurney, 2005. "Efficiency Costs of Meeting Industry-Distributional Constraints Under Environmental Permits and Taxes," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 36(4), pages 950-970, Winter.
    3. Parry Ian W. H. & Williams Roberton C., 2010. "What are the Costs of Meeting Distributional Objectives for Climate Policy?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-35, December.
    4. Martin L. Weitzman, 1974. "Prices vs. Quantities," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(4), pages 477-491.
    5. Daron Acemoglu & Philippe Aghion & Leonardo Bursztyn & David Hemous, 2012. "The Environment and Directed Technical Change," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(1), pages 131-166, February.
    6. Foster, Vivien & Hahn, Robert W, 1995. "Designing More Efficient Markets: Lessons from Los Angeles Smog Control," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 19-48, April.
    7. Goulder, Lawrence H. & Schneider, Stephen H., 1999. "Induced technological change and the attractiveness of CO2 abatement policies," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3-4), pages 211-253, August.
    8. Ellerman,A. Denny & Convery,Frank J. & de Perthuis,Christian, 2010. "Pricing Carbon," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521196475.
    9. Ragnar Arnason, 2012. "Property Rights in Fisheries: How Much Can Individual Transferable Quotas Accomplish?," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 6(2), pages 217-236, July.
    10. Goulder, Lawrence H. & Parry, Ian W. H. & Williams III, Roberton C. & Burtraw, Dallas, 1999. "The cost-effectiveness of alternative instruments for environmental protection in a second-best setting," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 329-360, June.
    11. Fischer, Carolyn & Newell, Richard G., 2008. "Environmental and technology policies for climate mitigation," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 55(2), pages 142-162, March.
    12. Montgomery, W. David, 1972. "Markets in licenses and efficient pollution control programs," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 395-418, December.
    13. Parry, Ian W. H. & Williams, Roberton III & Goulder, Lawrence H., 1999. "When Can Carbon Abatement Policies Increase Welfare? The Fundamental Role of Distorted Factor Markets," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 52-84, January.
    14. Chan, Gabriel & Stavins, Robert & Stowe, Robert & Sweeney, Richard, 2012. "The so2 Allowance-Trading System and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: Reflections on 20 Years of Policy Innovation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 65(2), pages 419-452, June.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • P14 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Property Rights
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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