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Designing and Updating a US Carbon Tax in an Uncertain World

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  • Aldy, Joseph E.

    () (Resources for the Future)

Abstract

A carbon tax provides certainty about the price of emissions, but it does so in a context characterized by uncertainty about its environmental benefits, economic costs, and international relations implications. Given current knowledge, suppose that the government sets a carbon tax schedule. In the future, a higher (lower) carbon tax could be justified by the resolution of uncertainty along the following ways: climate change turns out to be worse (better) than current projections; the economic costs of a carbon tax are lower (higher) than expected; other major economies implement more (less) ambitious carbon mitigation programs. This paper describes the design of a predictable process for updating the carbon tax in light of new information. Under this “structured discretion” approach, every five years the president would recommend an adjustment to the carbon tax based on analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of State on the environmental, economic, and diplomatic dimensions of climate policy. Similar to the expedited, streamlined consideration of regulations under the Congressional Review Act and trade deals under trade promotion authority, Congress would vote up or down on the presidential recommendation for a carbon tax adjustment, without the prospect of filibuster or amendment. This process could be synchronized with the timing of updating of nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement in a manner to leverage greater emissions mitigation ambition by other countries in future pledging rounds. The communication of guiding information and the latest data and analysis could serve as “forward guidance” for carbon tax adjustments, akin to the Federal Reserve Board’s communication strategy.

Suggested Citation

  • Aldy, Joseph E., 2017. "Designing and Updating a US Carbon Tax in an Uncertain World," Discussion Papers dp-17-01, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-17-01
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stavins, Robert Norman & Aldy, Joseph Edgar, 2012. "Using the Market to Address Climate Change: Insights from Theory & Experience," Scholarly Articles 10605425, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
    2. Joseph E. Aldy & William A. Pizer, 2016. "Editor's Choice Alternative Metrics for Comparing Domestic Climate Change Mitigation Efforts and the Emerging International Climate Policy Architecture," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 10(1), pages 3-24.
    3. Joseph E. Aldy & Alan J. Krupnick & Richard G. Newell & Ian W. H. Parry & William A. Pizer, 2010. "Designing Climate Mitigation Policy," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(4), pages 903-934, December.
    4. Katherine Femia & Steven Friedman & Brian P. Sack, 2013. "The effects of policy guidance on perceptions of the Fed’s reaction function," Staff Reports 652, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    5. Joseph Aldy, 2014. "The crucial role of policy surveillance in international climate policy," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 126(3), pages 279-292, October.
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    7. Putnam, Robert D., 1988. "Diplomacy and domestic politics: the logic of two-level games," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(3), pages 427-460, July.
    8. Hafstead, Marc & Metcalf, Gilbert E. & Williams III, Roberton C., 2016. "Adding Quantity Certainty to a Carbon Tax: The Role of a Tax Adjustment Mechanism for Policy Pre-Commitment," Discussion Papers dp-16-43, Resources For the Future.
    9. Alan Manne & Richard Richels, 1992. "Buying Greenhouse Insurance: The Economic Costs of CO2 Emission Limits," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026213280x, December.
    10. Aldy, Joseph Edgar, 2015. "Pricing Climate Risk Mitigation," Scholarly Articles 21150339, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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    12. Martin L. Weitzman, 2015. "Internalizing the Climate Externality: Can a Uniform Price Commitment Help?," Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2).
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    Cited by:

    1. Vogt-Schilb, Adrien & Hallegatte, Stephane, 2020. "Climate Policies and Nationally Determined Contributions: Reconciling the Needed Ambition with the Political Economy," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 8317, Inter-American Development Bank.
    2. Adrien Vogt‐Schilb & Stephane Hallegatte, 2017. "Climate policies and nationally determined contributions: reconciling the needed ambition with the political economy," Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 6(6), November.
    3. Jihad C. Elnaboulsi & Wassim Daher & Yigit Saglam, 2020. "Environmental Taxation, Information Precision, and Information Sharing," Working Papers 2020-04, CRESE.

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