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Energy Taxes: Traditional Efficiency Effects and Environmental Implications


  • Lawrence H. Goulder


This paper examines 'traditional' (non-environmental) efficiency consequences and environmental effects of two energy tax policies: a tax on fossil and synthetic fuels based on Btu (or energy) content and a tax on consumer purchases of gasoline. It uses a model that uniquely combines attention to details of the U.S. tax system with a consolidated treatment of U.S. energy use and pollution emissions. On traditional efficiency grounds, each of the energy taxes emerges as more costly to the economy than increases in personal or corporate income taxes of equal revenue yield. Simulation experiments indicate that the excess costs of energy taxes are due partly to their relatively narrow tax base. The Btu tax's application to gross output (as compared with net output under an income tax) serves to expand its excess costs; in contrast, the gasoline tax's focus on consumption (as opposed to income) tends to mitigate its excess costs. On the environmental side, we find that for each of eight major air pollutants considered, energy taxes induce emissions reductions that are at least nine times larger than the reductions under the income tax alternatives. Overall, this study indicates that the Btu and gasoline taxes considered are inferior to the alternatives on narrow efficiency grounds but superior on environmental grounds. Whether the environmental attractions of energy taxes are large enough to offset their relatively high non-environmental costs remains an open question.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence H. Goulder, 1993. "Energy Taxes: Traditional Efficiency Effects and Environmental Implications," NBER Working Papers 4582, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4582
    Note: PE EEE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. J. E. Stiglitz & P. Dasgupta, 1971. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods, and Economic Efficiency," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 151-174.
    2. Goulder, Lawrence H., 1989. "Tax policy, housing prices, and housing investment," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 281-304, May.
    3. Nordhaus, William D, 1991. "To Slow or Not to Slow: The Economics of the Greenhouse Effect," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 920-937, July.
    4. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1976. "The corporation tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(3-4), pages 303-311.
    5. Angus Deaton, 1979. "The Distance Function in Consumer Behaviour with Applications to Index Numbers and Optimal Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 46(3), pages 391-405.
    6. Peter A. Diamond & J. A. Mirrlees, 1968. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production," Working papers 22, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    7. repec:fth:harver:1424 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Julio I. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1994. "Energy Taxes and Aggregate Economic Activity," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 8, pages 159-195 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Lawrence H. Summers, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Investment: A q-Theory Approach," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 12(1), pages 67-140.
    10. Lawrence H. Goulder, 1989. "Tax Policy, Housing Prices, and Housing Investment," NBER Working Papers 2814, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. James M. Poterba, 1993. "Global Warming Policy: A Public Finance Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 47-63, Fall.
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    Cited by:

    1. Raúl O'Ryan & Sebastian Miller & Carlos J. de Miguel, 2001. "Environmental Taxes, Inefficient Subsidies and Income Distribution in Chile: A CGE framework," Documentos de Trabajo 98, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
    2. Hahn, Robert & Passell, Peter, 2010. "The economics of allowing more U.S. oil drilling," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 638-650, May.
    3. Antonia Diaz & Luis A. Puch & Maria D. Guillo, 2004. "Costly Capital Reallocation and Energy Use," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 7(2), pages 494-518, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies


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