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Environmental Policy Making in a Second-Best Setting

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    This paper uses analytically tractable and numerically solved general equilibrium models to examine the significance of pre-existing distortions in factor markets for revenue-neutral environmental tax reforms and for various policies involving pollution quotas and permits. Results indicate that pre-existing factor taxes generally raise the costs of these environmental policies. This reflects a tax-interaction effect: the lowering of real factor returns resulting from the higher output prices occasioned by environmental taxes and other regulations. The revenue-recycling effect - stemming from the use of environmental tax revenues to finance cuts in pre-existing factor taxes - helps reduce policy costs, but under plausible assumptions does not eliminate the costs of such policies: the double dividend does not materialize. Even if it does not produce a double dividend, the revenue-recycling effect is important for reducing policy costs. Policies that fail to exploit the revenue-recycling effect suffer significant disadvantages in terms of efficiency. Like environmental taxes, freely allocated (or grandfathered) pollution quotas or permits, for example, produce a costly tax-interaction effect, yet such quotas or permits do not enjoy the offsetting revenue-recycling effect. Auctioning the permits or quotas makes possible the revenue-recycling effect and allows given pollution-abatement targets to be achieved at lower cost. The failure to exploit the revenue-recycling effect can alter the sign of overall efficiency impact. Indeed, if marginal environmental benefits from pollution reductions are below a certain threshold value, then any level of pollution abatement through freely allocated quotas or permits is efficiency-reducing. The tax-interaction effect is relevant to government regulation outside the environmental area. To the extent that regulations on international trade or agricultural production raise output prices and thereby reduce real factor returns, these regulations exacerbate the factor-market distortions from pre-existing taxes and thus involve higher social costs than would be indicated by partial equilibrium analyses.

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    Article provided by Universidad del CEMA in its journal Journal of Applied Economics.

    Volume (Year): I (1998)
    Issue (Month): (November)
    Pages: 279-328

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    Handle: RePEc:cem:jaecon:v:1:y:1998:n:2:p:279-328
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