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Sulfur Dioxide Control by Electric Utilities: What Are the Gains from Trade?

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  • Curtis Carlson
  • Dallas Burtraw
  • Maureen Cropper
  • Karen L. Palmer

Abstract

Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) established a market for transferable sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission allowances among electric utilities. This market offers firms facing high marginal abatement costs the opportunity to purchase the right to emit SO2 from firms with lower costs, and this is expected to yield cost savings compared to a command-and-control approach to environmental regulation. This paper uses econometrically estimated marginal abatement cost functions for power plants affected by Title IV of the CAAA to evaluate the performance of the SO2 allowance market. Specifically, we investigate whether the much-heralded fall in the cost of abating SO2, compared to original estimates, can be attributed to allowance trading. We demonstrate that, for plants that use low-sulfur coal to reduce SO2 emissions, technical change and the fall in prices of low-sulfur coal have lowered marginal abatement cost curves by over 50 percent since 1985. The flexibility to take advantage of these changes is the main source of cost reductions, rather than trading per se. In the long run, allowance trading may achieve cost savings of $700$800 million per year compared to an "enlightened" command-and-control program characterized by a uniform emission rate standard. The cost savings would be twice as great if the alternative to trading were forced scrubbing. However, a comparison of potential cost savings in 1995 and 1996 with modeled costs of actual emissions suggests that most trading gains were unrealized in the first two years of the program.

Suggested Citation

  • Curtis Carlson & Dallas Burtraw & Maureen Cropper & Karen L. Palmer, 2000. "Sulfur Dioxide Control by Electric Utilities: What Are the Gains from Trade?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1292-1326, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:108:y:2000:i:6:p:1292-1326
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Burtraw, Dallas, 1995. "Cost Savings sans Allowance Trades? Evaluating the SO2 Emission Trading Program to Date," Discussion Papers dp-95-30-rev, Resources For the Future.
    2. Dallas Burtraw & Alan Krupnick & Erin Mansur & David Austin & Deirdre Farrell, 1998. "Costs And Benefits Of Reducing Air Pollutants Related To Acid Rain," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 16(4), pages 379-400, October.
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    5. Morgenstern, Richard & Harrington, Winston & Nelson, Per-Kristian, 1999. "On the Accuracy of Regulatory Cost Estimates," Discussion Papers dp-99-18, Resources For the Future.
    6. Winebrake, James J. & Farrell, Alexander E. & Bernstein, Mark A., 1995. "The clean air act's sulfur dioxide emissions market: Estimating the costs of regulatory and legislative intervention," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 239-260, November.
    7. Ellerman, A. Denny & Montero, Juan-Pablo, 1998. "The Declining Trend in Sulfur Dioxide Emissions: Implications for Allowance Prices," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 26-45, July.
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    12. Lawrence H. Goulder & Ian W.H. Parry & Dallas Burtraw, 1997. "Revenue-Raising versus Other Approaches to Environmental Protection: The Critical Significance of Preexisting Tax Distortions," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 28(4), pages 708-731, Winter.
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    16. Rubin, Jonathan D., 1996. "A Model of Intertemporal Emission Trading, Banking, and Borrowing," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 269-286, November.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • L68 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Appliances; Furniture; Other Consumer Durables

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