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The SO2 Allowance Trading System: The Ironic History of a Grand Policy Experiment

  • Stavins, Robert Norman
  • Schmalensee, Richard

Two decades have passed since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 launched a grand experiment in market-based environmental policy: the SO2 cap-and-trade system. That system performed well but created four striking ironies. First, by creating this system to reduce SO2 emissions to curb acid rain, the government did the right thing for the wrong reason. Second, a substantial source of this system’s cost-effectiveness was an unanticipated consequence of earlier railroad deregulation. Third, it is ironic that cap-and-trade has come to be demonized by conservative politicians in recent years, since this market-based, cost-effective policy innovation was initially championed and implemented by Republican administrations. Fourth, court decisions and subsequent regulatory responses have led to the collapse of the SO2 market, demonstrating that what the government gives, the government can take away.

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Paper provided by Harvard Kennedy School of Government in its series Scholarly Articles with number 9368024.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Publication status: Published in HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:9368024
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  1. Richard Schmalensee & Paul L. Joskow & A. Denny Ellerman & Juan Pablo Montero & Elizabeth M. Bailey, 1998. "An Interim Evaluation of Sulfur Dioxide Emissions Trading," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 53-68, Summer.
  2. Stavins, Robert N., 2003. "Experience with market-based environmental policy instruments," Handbook of Environmental Economics, in: K. G. Mäler & J. R. Vincent (ed.), Handbook of Environmental Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 9, pages 355-435 Elsevier.
  3. 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, vol. 65(2), pages 419-52, June.
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  7. 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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  12. Gabriel Chan & Robert Stavins & Robert Stowe & Richard Sweeney, 2012. "The SO2 Allowance Trading System and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: Reflections on Twenty Years of Policy Innovation," Working Papers 2012.06, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  13. Hahn, Robert W. & Stavins, Robert N., 2010. "The Effect of Allowance Allocations on Cap-and-Trade System Performance," Working Paper Series rwp10-010, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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  15. 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.
  16. Burtraw, Dallas & Palmer, Karen & Cropper, Maureen & Carlson, Curtis, 1998. "Sulfur-Dioxide Control By Electric Utilities: What Are the Gains from Trade?," Discussion Papers dp-98-44-rev, Resources For the Future.
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  22. H. Spencer Banzhaf & Dallas Burtraw & David Evans & Alan Krupnick, 2006. "Valuation of Natural Resource Improvements in the Adirondacks," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 82(3), pages 445-464.
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  24. Shelby Gerking & Stephen F. Hamilton, 2008. "What Explains the Increased Utilization of Powder River Basin Coal in Electric Power Generation?," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 90(4), pages 933-950.
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