Chris Timmins (02/20/19)

Chris Timmins

Duke University

“Housing Discrimination and the Pollution Exposure Gap in the United States” w/ Peter Christensen (UIUC)

Abstract: The choice of residential location is a critical economic decision for households in the United States. Recent research has shown that neighborhood pollution exposures can have significant effects on health outcomes, disproportionately affecting minority households. In this study, we combine experimental evidence on discrimination in the rental market for housing with observational evidence from a panel detailing the movements of 1.5 million renter households to study the extent to which discrimination constrains the housing choices of minorities and contributes to inequity in health outcomes. We find that renters with African American and Hispanic/LatinX names receive the exact same response rates to inquiries made for housing within a tight radius of plants that emit toxic pollutants (high exposure locations), while receiving up to 35% and 36% lower response rates at lower exposure locations in the same markets. We find that African American and Hispanic/LatinX renters in these markets move into high exposure neighborhoods at higher rates and move out at lower rates than similar white households, resulting in higher exposures to toxics and particularly during periods of pregnancy. These differences result in a 19% higher likelihood of in utero exposures to toxic emissions for children born in Hispanic/LatinX households and 16.6% higher likelihoods for children born in African American households. Full Paper

Karen Palmer (12/5/18)

Karen Palmer

Resources for the Future

“Quantities with Prices”

Abstract: Environmental policy with uncertainty is often posed as a choice of price versus quantity instruments. Quantity targets are typically preferred, but paradoxically employ architecture derived from the first-best global framework that applies imperfectly to the partial equilibrium policy setting. In practice, climate policies are incremental and multi-faceted, combining economic and regulatory approaches with limited geographic scope that do not balance global benefits and costs, but nonetheless are envisioned as a noncooperative sequence of actions enabling more efficient and comprehensive global policy. This paper recognizes and evaluates price responsive emissions allowance supply schedules emerging in existing trading programs. We use simulation modeling and laboratory experiments to explore a supply schedule in a regional market. A supply schedule usefully shares the risks and benefits with respect to emissions control costs between economic and environmental interests, preserving the role for technology and energy policies that are expected to lower costs over time. Full Paper

Thibault Fally (11/7/18)

Thibault Fally

University of California, Berkeley

“Per Capita Income, Consumption Patterns, and CO2 Emissions”

Abstract: This paper investigates the role of income-driven differences in consumption patterns in explaining and projecting energy demand and CO2 emissions. We develop and estimate a general equilibrium model with non-homothetic preferences across a large set of countries and sectors, and trace embodied energy consumption through intermediate use and trade linkages. Consumption of energy goods is less than proportional to income in rich countries, and more income-elastic in low-income countries. While income effects are weaker for embodied energy, we find a significant negative relationship between income elasticity and CO2 intensity across all goods. These income-driven differences in consumption choices can partially explain the observed inverted-U relationship between income and emissions across countries, the so-called environmental Kuznet curve. Relative to standard models with homothetic preferences, simulations suggest that income growth leads to lower emissions in high-income countries and higher emissions in some low-income countries, with only modest reductions in world emissions on aggregate. Full Paper


Joshua Blonz (9/26/18)

Joshua Blonz

Resources for the Future

“Measuring Inefficiencies When Agents Break their Principals’ Rules: The Case of Energy Efficiency Retrofits”

Abstract: In this paper, I quantify the negative welfare consequences resulting from the misalignment of incentives between principals and agents in the context of a home energy efficiency retrofit program. I show that contractors (agents) working on behalf of an electric utility (the principal) deliberately authorize ineligible upgrades to increase their own compensation. I exploit variation in contract structure to show that larger incentives lead to higher levels of agent misreporting. Using household-level monthly panel data, I find that each ineligible upgrades reduces welfare by $104 and saves half as much electricity as upgrades that follow program guidelines. I extend the principal-agent model to quantify the costs and benefits of the contract structure used in the appliance upgrade program, finding that the existing contract structure reduces program welfare benefits by one fifth. My results provide novel evidence of how agent incentives can reduce the efficacy of public policy, and they are the first to identify and measure how the principal-agent problem can reduce the savings of energy efficiency programs.


Erica Myers (10/24/18)

Erica Myers

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Heterogeneous Misperceptions of Energy Costs: Implications for Measurement and Policy Design”

Abstract: How consumers perceive different aspects of product cost, such as sales tax, shipping and handling charges, and energy operating expenses among others, have important welfare implications for policy.  In this paper, we estimate heterogeneous perceptions of energy costs in the U.S. appliance market using a revealed preference approach. We recover a non-parametric distribution and  show that while the largest share of consumers correctly perceives energy costs, a significant share undervalues them, and smaller shares either significantly overvalues or does not pay attention to them. These patterns are strikingly similar across income groups. We simulate the welfare effects of policies targeting externalities in the presence of heterogeneous misperceptions and show that standards largely outperform taxes. Standards’ key advantage is that they reduce variance in energy operating, which ameliorates the distortionary effects from potential misperceptions. Full Paper

Nick  Hagerty (9/12/18)

Nick  Hagerty

University of California, Berkeley – Ciriacy-Wantrup Post-Doc

“Liquid Constrained: Estimating the Potential Gains from Water Markets”

Abstract: I propose a framework to estimate demand and analyze welfare in water markets using transactions data. To infer preferences from observed choices in an existing market, this framework overcomes two key empirical challenges. First, it can recover marginal valuations in the presence of unobserved transaction costs, which lead observed prices to be distributed less widely than true marginal valuations. Second, it can correctly estimate price elasticities in settings where total quantity is fixed and agents may choose to either buy or sell, including water markets and other cap-and-trade systems. I apply this framework to estimate the gains available from an efficient statewide surface water market in California, where conveyance infrastructure is well-developed yet transaction volume remains low. Full Paper

Nicolai Kuminoff (4/18/18)

Nicolai Kuminoff

Arizona State University

“Hazed and Confused: Air Pollution, Dementia and Financial Decision Making”

Abstract: We study whether long-term exposure to air pollution impairs cognition among the US Medicare population. We link fifteen years of administrative records for 7.4 million adults age 65 and older to the Environmental Protection Agency’s air-quality monitoring network to track the evolution of individuals’ health, onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, financial decisions, and cumulative exposure to fine-particulate air pollution (PM2.5) based on their precise residential locations. We see evidence of Tiebout’s mechanism at work: movers tend to move to less polluted neighborhoods but, among movers, those who are older and those with dementia tend to move to more polluted neighborhoods. We address residential sorting and measurement error in assigning pollution to people by utilizing quasi-random variation in PM2.5 exposures stemming from the EPA’s initial (2005) designation of nonattainment counties for PM2.5. We find robust evidence that a 1 microgram per cubic meter (μg/m3) increase in decadal exposure to PM2.5 (8.5% of the mean) increases the probability of an dementia diagnosis by the end of the decade by 0.5 to 1.2 percentage points (4% to 6%). Our estimates are slightly larger at exposure levels below the EPA’s current regulatory threshold.  We also find that higher cumulative exposures to PM2.5 impair financial decision making among those not diagnosed with dementia, where the magnitudes of the effects are 3% to 6% of the negative effect of dementia on decision making. Finally, we find no evidence that exposure to PM2.5 affects the diagnosis rates for morbidities thought to be unrelated to air-pollution and no evidence that pollutants other than PM2.5 impair cognition, providing evidence against confounding.

John Voorheis (4/11/18)

John Voorheis

U.S. Census Bureau

“Pollution and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from the 1970 Clean Air Act”

Abstract: How do parental endowments shape the economic prospects of their children? Using a newly constructed dataset from the U.S. Census Bureau linking survey, Census and administrative records, we evaluate the effect of early childhood pollution exposure on the long-run effects of the individuals directly affected, as well as the persistence of these effects across generations – exploring the effects of in-utero pollution exposure on the children of those that were in utero exposed. We exploit variation in particulate matter, which sharply dropped following the enactment of the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments, which we argue allows us to identify these effects as causal. We find that increased early life exposure to particulate matter is associated with significant reductions in the later life earnings of affected individuals, as well as changes in family structure, through an increased likelihood of divorce. In addition, we find evidence that the consequences of this exposure are transmitted across generations. The children of those affected by increased in-utero pollution exposure are less likely to attend college and experience lower earnings. Preliminary evidence on the drivers of the second generation effects point to the importance of economic, as opposed to genetic, channels, highlighting the role that policy could play in equalizing opportunities.

Stephen Polasky (3/21/18)

Stephen Polasky

University of Minnesota

Gross Ecosystem Product for Sustainable Development

Abstract: China is developing and pilot-testing a new measure of ecological performance, Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP), as a guide in securing the well-being of people and nature.  The aim of GEP accounting is to help reveal the contribution of ecosystems to society; show the ecological connections among regions (e.g., between suppliers and beneficiaries of ecosystem services such as flood control or water purification); inform appropriate compensation from beneficiaries to suppliers; serve as a performance metric for government officials; and otherwise inform government policy and investment.  GEP will be reported alongside Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Around the world, there is widespread recognition of the need to move beyond GDP for more complete performance measures of the ecological, economic, and social systems supporting human wellbeing (e.g., Stiglitz et al. 2010, UN Sustainable Development Goals 2015). There are ongoing efforts to provide more complete metrics, including the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (UN 2012, 2013), Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES 2017), Inclusive Wealth (e.g., Arrow et al. 2012, World Bank 2011, UNU 2014), and the Human Development Index (UNDP 1990). But to date these efforts receive far less attention than GDP.  China’s adoption of GEP could put ecological information on a par with economic information in one of the world’s most influential countries.