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A Tax on Output of the Polluting Industry is Not a Tax on Pollution: The Importance of Hitting the Target

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  • Don Fullerton
  • Inkee Hong
  • Gilbert E. Metcalf

Abstract

We explore the effects of environmental taxes that imprecisely target pollution. A review of actual policies indicates few (if any) examples of a true tax on pollution. More typically, environmental taxes target an input or output that is correlated with pollution. We construct a simple analytical general equilibrium model to calculate the optimum tax rate on the input of the polluting industry, in terms of key behavioral parameters, and we compare this imprecisely-targeted tax to an ideal tax on pollution. Finally, we consider incremental tax reforms such as a change in either tax from some pre-existing level. Using a utility-based money-metric measure of welfare, we examine the losses that arise from not taxing pollution directly. With no existing tax, under our plausible parameters, the welfare gain from an output tax is less that half the gain from an emissions tax.

Suggested Citation

  • Don Fullerton & Inkee Hong & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1999. "A Tax on Output of the Polluting Industry is Not a Tax on Pollution: The Importance of Hitting the Target," NBER Working Papers 7259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7259
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    Cited by:

    1. Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2003. "Environmental levies and distortionary taxation:: Pigou, taxation and pollution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 313-322, February.
    2. Milyo, Jeffrey, 2000. "A problem with Euclidean preferences in spatial models of politics," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 179-182, February.
    3. Navajas, Fernando H. & Panadeiros, Monica & Natale, Oscar, 2011. "Environmentally Related Energy Taxes in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay," MPRA Paper 37829, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Sjak Smulders & Herman R. J. Vollebergh, 2001. "Green Taxes and Administrative Costs: The Case of Carbon Taxation," NBER Chapters,in: Behavioral and Distributional Effects of Environmental Policy, pages 91-130 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 2002. "Imperfect observability of emissions and second-best emission and output taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(3), pages 385-407, September.
    6. Devarajan Shantayanan & Go Delfin S & Robinson Sherman & Thierfelder Karen, 2011. "Tax Policy to Reduce Carbon Emissions in a Distorted Economy: Illustrations from a South Africa CGE Model," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 1-24, February.
    7. Oladosu, Gbadebo & Rose, Adam, 2007. "Income distribution impacts of climate change mitigation policy in the Susquehanna River Basin Economy," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 520-544, May.
    8. Herman Vollebergh, 2004. "Lessons from the Polder: Is Dutch CO2-Taxation Optimal?," Working Papers 2004.6, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    9. Nordström, Håkan & Vaughan, Scott, 1999. "Trade and the environment," WTO Special Studies, World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division, volume 4, number 4.
    10. McAusland, Carol & Costello, Christopher, 2004. "Avoiding invasives: trade-related policies for controlling unintentional exotic species introductions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 954-977, September.

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