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Tax and Subsidy Combinations for the Control of Car Pollution


  • Don Fullerton
  • Sarah West


Despite technological advances, an individual car's emissions still cannot be measured reliably enough to impose a Pigovian tax. This paper explores alternative market incentives that could be used instead. We solve for second-best combinations of uniform taxes on gasoline, engine size, and vehicle age. For 1,261 individuals and cars in the 1994 Consumer Expenditure Survey, we record the car's model, year, and number of cylinders. We then seek a corresponding car in data from the California Air Resources Board that shows the car's engine size, fuel efficiency, and emissions per mile. We calculate the welfare improvement from a zero-tax scenario to the ideal Pigovian tax, and we find that 71 percent of that gain can be achieved by the second-best combination of taxes on gas, size, and vintage. A gas tax alone attains 62 percent of that gain. These results are robust to variation in the elasticity of substitution among goods.

Suggested Citation

  • Don Fullerton & Sarah West, 2000. "Tax and Subsidy Combinations for the Control of Car Pollution," NBER Working Papers 7774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7774
    Note: PE EEE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jorgenson, Dale W, 1996. "Empirical Studies of Depreciation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(1), pages 24-42, January.
    2. Fullerton, Don & West, Sarah E., 2002. "Can Taxes on Cars and on Gasoline Mimic an Unavailable Tax on Emissions?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 135-157, January.
    3. Small, K.A. & Kazimi, C., 1994. "On the Costs of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicules," Papers 94-95-3, California Irvine - School of Social Sciences.
    4. Ohta, Makoto & Griliches, Zvi, 1986. "Automobile Prices and Quality: Did the Gasoline Price Increases Change Consumer Tastes in the U.S.?," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 4(2), pages 187-198, April.
    5. Hoel, Michael, 1998. " Emission Taxes versus Other Environmental Policies," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 100(1), pages 79-104, March.
    6. Anna Alberini & Winston Harrington & Virginia McConnell, 1995. "Determinants of Participation in Accelerated Vehicle-Retirement Programs," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 26(1), pages 93-112, Spring.
    7. Robert Kohn, 1996. "An additive tax and subsidy for controlling automobile pollution," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(7), pages 459-462.
    8. Hulten, Charles R & Wykoff, Frank C, 1996. "Issues in the Measurement of Economic Depreciation: Introductory Remarks," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(1), pages 10-23, January.
    9. Eskeland, Gunnar S, 1994. "A Presumptive Pigovian Tax: Complementing Regulation to Mimic an Emissions Fee," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 8(3), pages 373-394, September.
    10. Innes, Robert, 1996. "Regulating Automobile Pollution under Certainty, Competition, and Imperfect Information," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 219-239, September.
    11. Dahl, Carol & Sterner, Thomas, 1991. "Analysing gasoline demand elasticities: a survey," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 203-210, July.
    12. Molly Espey, 1996. "Explaining the Variation in Elasticity Estimates of Gasoline Demand in the United States: A Meta-Analysis," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3), pages 49-60.
    13. Maureen Sevigny, 1998. "Taxing Automobile Emissions for Pollution Control," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 1447.
    14. Mayeres, Inge & Proost, Stef, 1997. " Optimal Tax and Public Investment Rules for Congestion Type of Externalities," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(2), pages 261-279, June.
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    JEL classification:

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

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