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Benefits and Costs from Sulfur Dioxide Trading: A Distributional Analysis


  • Cynthia Morgan
  • Ronald J. Shadbegian
  • Wayne B. Gray


Policy-makers and others interested in environmental justice (EJ) are concerned that poor and minority communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required the dirtiest coal-fired utilities to cap their SO2 emissions at 5.8 million tons per year starting in 1995. At the same time, there was a major regulatory regime change with respect to the regulation of coal-fired utilities, shifting from command-and-control emission standards to a system of tradable allowances. In this paper, we examine the distribution of costs and health benefits across different regions and socioeconomic groups associated with the air quality improvements mandated under Title IV. We examine data on the 148 coal-fired utilities which were regulated under Title IV and find as expected that the monetary benefits of reduced SO2 emissions under Title IV greatly outweigh the costs: we estimate benefits of nearly $56 billion and costs of just $558 million. Not unexpectedly the net benefits are positive in every EPA region, but are highly concentrated. We find that nearly 90% of the benefits and costs of the overall reductions under Title IV are concentrated in 4 regions – the northeast, north central, mid-Atlantic, and southeast. Furthermore, when we examine the socio-economic distribution of net benefits, we find that the poor received slightly lower benefits on average from Title IV, which could raise some EJ concerns, if the poor purchase as much electricity as the rich. On the other hand, the African-American and Hispanic communities received a disproportionately larger share of the benefits relative to their costs. Hence our study indicates that there are no significant EJ concerns raised by Title IV.

Suggested Citation

  • Cynthia Morgan & Ronald J. Shadbegian & Wayne B. Gray, 2005. "Benefits and Costs from Sulfur Dioxide Trading: A Distributional Analysis," NCEE Working Paper Series 200509, National Center for Environmental Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revised Dec 2005.
  • Handle: RePEc:nev:wpaper:wp200509

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 2003. "Air Quality, Infant Mortality, and the Clean Air Act of 1970," Working Papers 0406, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
    2. Burtraw, Dallas & Krupnick, Alan & Austin, David & Farrell, Deirdre & Mansur, Erin, 1997. "The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Acid Rain," Discussion Papers dp-97-31-rev, Resources For the Future.
    3. Becker Randy A, 2003. "Pollution Abatement Expenditure by U.S. Manufacturing Plants: Do Community Characteristics Matter?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(2), pages 1-23, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Richard Schmalensee & Robert N. Stavins, 2013. "The SO 2 Allowance Trading System: The Ironic History of a Grand Policy Experiment," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(1), pages 103-122, Winter.
    2. Meredith Fowlie & Stephen P. Holland & Erin T. Mansur, 2012. "What Do Emissions Markets Deliver and to Whom? Evidence from Southern California's NOx Trading Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 965-993, April.
    3. Stowe, Robert C & Stavins, Robert Norman & Chan, Gabriel Angelo & Sweeney, Richard Leonard, 2012. "The SO2 Allowance Trading System and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: Reflections on Twenty Years of Policy Innovation," Scholarly Articles 8160721, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.


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