Bob Sussman at Brookings writes favorably about the resurrection of cap and trade for GHG regulation as a viable policy option with the Chinese planning to implement a program and the US EPA Clean Power Plan encouraging market trading mechanisms in two forms of compliance. Yet as I read this (and also think about proposals to increase water trading to solve California’s ongoing drought), I can see an important missing element in these discussions–how can these markets be designed to gain success?
In 1996, I wrote “Environmental Commodities Markets: ‘Messy’ Versus ‘Ideal’ Worlds” that explored the issues of market design and political realities. As I’ve written recently, we are not always good at fully compensating the losers in environmental policy making, and these groups tend to oppose policies that are beneficial for society as a result. And market incentive proponents seem to always propose some variation on one of two market designs: 1) everyone for themselves in searching for and settling transactions or 2) a giant periodic auction.
In reality, carefully designing market institutions that work for participants is key to the success of those markets. Daniel Bromley wrote about how just “declaring markets” in Russia and Eastern Europe did not instantly transform those economies, much to our chagrin. The RECLAIM emissions market has woefully underperformed because SCAQMD didn’t think through how transactions could be facilitated (and that failure prompted my article.) Frank Wolak and Jonathan Kolstad confirmed my own FERC testimony that the disfunction of the RECLAIM market led to higher electricity prices in the California crisis of 2000-01.
For a presentation a few years ago, I prepared this typology of market structure that looks at the search and match mechanisms and the price revelation and settlement mechanisms. This presentation focused on water transfer markets in California, but it’s also applicable to emission markets. Markets range from brokered/negotiated real estate to dealer/posted-price groceries. Even the New York Stock Exchange, which is a dealer/auction probably works differently than how most people think. There are differences in efficiency and ease of use, often trading off. As we move forward, we need more discussion about these nuts and bolts issues if we want truly successful outcomes.
Maximillian Auffhammer at UC’s Energy Institute @ Haas focuses on the issue of exporting coal from the Port of Oakland, but he turns to the issue I highlighted recently–the path to accomplishing environmental objectives should travel through compensating those who are worse off from such policies.
As I was driving back from Los Angeles to Davis, I thought about how convenient it would be to turn on an auto pilot that allowed us to lock into the train of cars up Highway 99. The only reason I really had to pay attention was due to the varying speeds of the traffic. But that future may be nearer than we might think. Google’s self-driving car is getting most of the press, but in fact there are many similar technologies already on the road. In fact, there’s been some concern that drivers are already pushing the limits on current controls, but collision avoidance devices may soon be standard equipment.
Which brings us to the question: How will high speed rail fare in a world with driverless electric cars? The high speed rail travel forecast appears to assume a similar mix of gasoline-fueled automobiles; in fact, the word “electric” isn’t even in the report. On the other hand, studies show that EV market share probably needs to reach 45% by 2030 to achieve an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. And the Air Resources Board is considering regulations to implement “fast refueling / battery exchange” that would make the LA-SF trip even easier in an EV. Given the shorter life of automobiles, we might expect that almost all of the highway trips are with EVs by 2045.
We’re left with the question of what are the true emission reductions from HSR in such a world? Are we building a project that’s truly useful life is less than a decade?
Unfortunately Alex Epstein, a blogger at Forbes, takes the wrong perspective–an underlying premise that we need absolute certainty that climate change is occurring before we should act. (And equally unfortunately, environmentalist argue that catastrophic climate change is occurring with absolute certainty to defend policy initiatives.)
The correct perspective is to ask “what are the relative risks and consequences posed by potential climate change?” Can we say with absolute certainty that GCC is not and will not occur? No, we have strong evidence that warming has occurred (although the rate can be disputed) and that various local climates have measurably changed (e.g., glaciers receding). As an analogy, would anyone argue that we shouldn’t take measures to reduce forest fire risks to communities even if fires aren’t burning nearby? We know that such fires are a strong risk, and we ask what actions are sufficient to reduce the risks while still achieving other objectives. We should be asking the same questions regarding responses to potential climate change.
Steve Moss and I wrote about this perspective in 1999 in Chapter 2 of this report. (Note that we did not coauthor the other chapters. Chapter 3 about the economic consequences of using carbon taxes to replace other tax revenues in particular is simply wrong.) Economists have evolved methodologies beyond the simple approach we presented there, such as robust decision making (RDM), real options analysis and “fat-tailed” uncertainty benefit-cost analysis. We face a great deal of uncertainty in many dimensions. We need to conduct more complete analyses that assess the potential costs and benefits under uncertainty–i.e., measure the risk of relative actions and non actions.
Simply having a battle over which scientists are correct is fruitless and distracts us from the real question at hand. Let’s agree that a large plurality of scientists have posed a plausible case for human-induced climate change, even if there are doubts about the potential magnitude and consequences. Then we can move on to what are the range of potential consequences and the justification for various responses.
[From press release] A new study released today concludes that state-of-the-science economic models, including those used for the California Air Resources Board’s economic analyses of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), are not capable of simulating the fundamental changes in California’s economy that AB 32 measures are likely to cause. While critics of ARB claim that costs might be underestimated, this new study shows that many benefits also are not represented by models and more modeling isn’t as useful as consideration of lessons from prior policies and economics literature.
The study is timely because CARB will vote on the Proposed Scoping Plan to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) on December 11, less than a week away.
In the new study, Dr. McCann reveals that current techniques…
I have an observation that that has only been alluded to indirectly in the debate. The main point of the legislators’ letter calling for a delay in implementation is that low income groups may be particularly hit. The counter argument that we need the inclusion of transportation fuels under the cap to incent innovation seems to pit the plight of the poor against the investment risk of wealthy entrepreneurs. We haven’t really done a good job of addressing affordability of the transformative policies that can change GHG emissions. The proposal to use carbon tax revenues to rebate to low income taxpayers has been floated at the national level, but of course that died with the rest of the national cap and trade proposal. A similar proposal was made to mitigate electricity price impacts.
Our state legislators are rightfully concerned about the impacts on those among us who have the least. Nevertheless, that problem is easily addresses with the tools and resources that are already available to the state. Those families and households who now qualify for the CARE and FERA electric and natural gas utilities rate discounts can be made eligible for an annual rebate equal to the average annual gasoline consumption multiplied by the amount of the GHG allowance cost embedded in the gasoline price. This rebate could be funded out of the state’s allowance revenue fund. For example, if the price is increased by 15 cents per gallon and the average automobile uses 650 gallons per year, an eligible household could receive $97.50 for each car.
About 30% of households are currently eligible for CARE or FERA. On a statewide basis, the program would cost about $650 million, which is comparable to the cost for CARE for a single utility like PG&E or Southern California Edison. Those legislators who are most concerned can coauthor legislation to put this program in place.
(BTW, I think the DOE fuel use calculator is outdated–on my many trips to LA I haven’t seen these types of fuel economy changes. My average MPG is pretty much the same no matter how much traffic there is on I-5. But that’s just a fun fact aside…)
Improvement in new and existing technologies’ performance and costs is a function of responses to a mix of market and regulatory signals. Finding empirical measures of differing innovation influences is difficult due to confounding influences. Yet we may be able to look at broader economic trends to discern the relative merit of different approaches.
The most salient example could be the assessment of comparative performances after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Allies conducted a 45-year experiment in which Germany was first split after World War II with largely equivalent cultures and per capita endowments, but one used a largely market-based economy and the other relied on central economic planning. When the two nations reunited in 1990, the eastern centrally-planned portion was significantly behind in both overall well-being and in technological innovations and adoption. West Germany had doubled the economic output of centrally-planned East Germany.
More importantly, West Germany had become one of the most technologically-advanced and environmentally-benign economies while East Germany was still reliant on dirty, obsolete technologies. For example, a coal-to-oil refinery in the former East Germany was still using World War II-era technology. West Germany’s better environmental situation probably arose from the fact that firms and the government were in an adversarial setting in which the firms focused on the most efficient use of resources and were insulated from political interest group pressures. On the other hand, resource allocation decisions in East Germany had to also consider interest group pressures that tended to protect old technologies and industries because these were state-owned enterprises.
The transformation of the West German economy, both technologically and institutionally, was akin to what we will need to meet current GHG reduction goals and beyond. This more clearly than any other example demonstrates how reliance on central planning, as attractive as it appears to achieving specific goals, can be overwhelmed by the complexity of our societies and economies. Despite explicit policies to pursue technological innovations, a market-based system progressed much more rapidly and further.