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Cleaning the Bathwater with the Baby: The Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Pricing in Transportation

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  • Christopher R. Knittel
  • Ryan Sandle

Abstract

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US have relied on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards and Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS). Economists often argue that these policies are inefficient relative to carbon pricing because they ignore existing vehicles and do not adequately reduce the incentive to drive. This paper presents evidence that the net social costs of carbon pricing are significantly less than previous thought. The bias arises from the fact that the demand elasticity for miles travelled varies systematically with vehicle emissions; dirtier vehicles are more responsive to changes in gasoline prices. This is true for all four emissions for which we have data—nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and greenhouse gases—as well as weight. This reduces the net social costs associated with carbon pricing through increasing the co-benefits. Accounting for this heterogeneity implies that the welfare losses from $1.00 gas tax, or a $110 per ton of CO2 tax, are negative over the period of 1998 to 2008 even when we ignore the climate change benefits from the tax. Co-benefits increase by over 60 percent relative to ignoring the heterogeneity that we document. In addition, accounting for this heterogeneity raises the optimal gas tax associated with local pollution, as calculated by Parry and Small (2005), by as much as 57 percent. While our empirical setting is California, we present evidence that the effects may be larger for the rest of the US.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher R. Knittel & Ryan Sandle, 2011. "Cleaning the Bathwater with the Baby: The Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Pricing in Transportation," Working Papers 1115, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:mee:wpaper:1115
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stephen P. Holland & Jonathan E. Hughes & Christopher R. Knittel & Nathan C. Parker, 2015. "Some Inconvenient Truths about Climate Change Policy: The Distributional Impacts of Transportation Policies," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1052-1069, December.
    2. Jonathan E. Hughes & Christopher R. Knittel & Daniel Sperling, 2008. "Evidence of a Shift in the Short-Run Price Elasticity of Gasoline Demand," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 29(1), pages 113-134.
    3. Glazer, Amihai & Klein, Daniel B. & Lave, Charles, 1995. "Clean on Paper, Dirty on the Road: Troubles with California's Smog Check," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt5514s0hg, University of California Transportation Center.
    4. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2011. "Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon for Use in U.S. Federal Rulemakings: A Summary and Interpretation," NBER Working Papers 16913, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Meghan R. Busse & Christopher R. Knittel & Florian Zettelmeyer, 2009. "Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets," NBER Working Papers 15590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Nicholas Z. Muller & Robert Mendelsohn, 2009. "Efficient Pollution Regulation: Getting the Prices Right," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1714-1739, December.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Jenkins, Jesse D., 2014. "Political economy constraints on carbon pricing policies: What are the implications for economic efficiency, environmental efficacy, and climate policy design?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 467-477.
    2. Mark Hoekstra & Steven L. Puller & Jeremy West, 2017. "Cash for Corollas: When Stimulus Reduces Spending," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 1-35, July.
    3. Klier, Thomas & Linn, Joshua, 2013. "Fuel prices and new vehicle fuel economy—Comparing the United States and Western Europe," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 280-300.
    4. Bento, Antonio M. & Hughes, Jonathan E. & Kaffine, Daniel, 2013. "Carpooling and driver responses to fuel price changes: Evidence from traffic flows in Los Angeles," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 41-56.
    5. Michael L. Anderson, 2014. "Subways, Strikes, and Slowdowns: The Impacts of Public Transit on Traffic Congestion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(9), pages 2763-2796, September.
    6. Christopher R. Knittel, 2012. "Reducing Petroleum Consumption from Transportation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 93-118, Winter.
    7. Jeremy West & Mark Hoekstra & Jonathan Meer & Steven L. Puller, 2015. "Vehicle Miles (Not) Traveled: Why Fuel Economy Requirements Don't Increase Household Driving," NBER Working Papers 21194, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Mérel, Pierre & Smith, Aaron & Williams, Jeffrey & Wimberger, Emily, 2014. "Cars on crutches: How much abatement do smog check repairs actually provide?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 371-395.
    9. Grant Jacobsen, 2016. "Improving Energy Codes," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 1).
    10. Justine Hastings & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2012. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice: Evidence from Commodity Price Shocks," NBER Working Papers 18248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Christopher Hansman & Jonas Hjort & Gianmarco León, 2015. "Firm's response and unintended health consequences of industrial regulations," Economics Working Papers 1469, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    12. West, Jeremy & Hoekstra, Mark & Meer, Jonathan & Puller, Steven L., 2017. "Vehicle miles (not) traveled: Fuel economy requirements, vehicle characteristics, and household driving," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 65-81.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • L0 - Industrial Organization - - General
    • L9 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • R2 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis
    • R4 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics

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