Blog Post - Technology and Policy

Cap-and-Trade, Carbon Taxes, and My Neighbor’s Lovely Lawn

| Nov. 16, 2012

The recent demise of serious political consideration of an economy-wide U.S. CO2 cap-and-trade system and the even more recent resurgence in interest among policy wonks in a U.S. carbon taxshould prompt reflection on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we may be going.

Lessons

Almost fifteen years ago, in an article that appeared in 1998 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “What Can We Learn from the Grand Policy Experiment?  Lessons from SO2 Allowance Trading,” I examined the implications of what was then the very new emissions trading program set up by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to cut acid rain by half over the succeeding decade.  In that article, I attempted to offer some guidance regarding the conditions under which cap-and-trade (then known as “tradable permits”) was likely to work well, or not so well.  Here’s a brief summary of what I wrote at the time:

(1)  SO2 trading was a case where the cost of abating pollution differed widely among sources, and where a market-based system was therefore likely to have greater gains, relative to conventional, command-and-control regulations (Newell and Stavins 2003). It was clear early on that SO2 abatement cost heterogeneity was great, because of differences in ages of plants and their proximity to sources of low-sulfur coal. But where abatement costs are more uniform across sources, the political costs of enacting an allowance trading approach are less likely to be justifiable.  Read more here.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Stavins, Robert N.Cap-and-Trade, Carbon Taxes, and My Neighbor’s Lovely Lawn.” Technology and Policy, November 16, 2012, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/cap-and-trade-carbon-taxes-and-my-neighbors-lovely-lawn.

The Author

Robert N. Stavins