NBER Working Papers by Sarah West

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Working Papers

March 2004Empirical Estimates for Environmental Policy Making in a Second-Best Setting
with Roberton C. Williams: w10330
This study estimates parameters necessary to calculate the optimal second-best gasoline tax, most notably the cross-price elasticity between gasoline and leisure. Prior work indicates that in a second-best setting with distortionary income taxes, both the cost of environmental regulation and the optimal environmental tax rate depend crucially on the cross-price elasticity between a polluting good and leisure. However, no prior study on second-best environmental regulation has estimated this elasticity. Using household data, we find that gasoline is a relative complement to leisure, and thus that the optimal gasoline tax is significantly higher than marginal damages the opposite of the result suggested by the prior literature. Following this approach to estimate cross-price elasticities w...
September 2002Estimates from a Consumer Demand System: Implications for the Incidence of Environmental Taxes
with Roberton C. Williams III: w9152
Most studies suggest that environmental taxes are regressive, and thus are unattractive policy options. We consider the distributional effects of a gasoline tax increase using three welfare measures and under three scenarios for gas tax revenue use. To incorporate behavioral responses we use Consumer Expenditure Survey data to estimate a consumer demand system that includes gasoline, other goods, and leisure. We find that the gas tax is regressive, but that returning the revenue through a lump-sum transfer more than offsets this, yielding a net increase in progressivity. We also find that ignoring behavioral changes in distributional calculations overstates both the overall burden of the tax and its regressivity.

Published: West, Sarah E. & Williams, R.C.Roberton III, 2004. "Estimates from a consumer demand system: implications for the incidence of environmental taxes," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 535-558, May. citation courtesy of

July 2000Tax and Subsidy Combinations for the Control of Car Pollution
with Don Fullerton: w7774
Despite technological advances, an individual car's emissions still cannot be measured reliably enough to impose a Pigovian tax. This paper explores alternative market incentives that could be used instead. We solve for second-best combinations of uniform taxes on gasoline, engine size, and vehicle age. For 1,261 individuals and cars in the 1994 Consumer Expenditure Survey, we record the car's model, year, and number of cylinders. We then seek a corresponding car in data from the California Air Resources Board that shows the car's engine size, fuel efficiency, and emissions per mile. We calculate the welfare improvement from a zero-tax scenario to the ideal Pigovian tax, and we find that 71 percent of that gain can be achieved by the second-best combination of taxes on gas, size, and v...

Published: Don Fullerton & Sarah E. West, 2010. "Tax and Subsidy Combinations for the Control of Car Pollution," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Berkeley Electronic Press, vol. 10(1). citation courtesy of

March 1999Can Taxes on Cars and on Gasoline Mimic an Unavailable Tax on Emissions?
with Don Fullerton: w7059
A tax on vehicle emissions can efficiently induce all of the cheapest forms of abatement. Consumers could drive less, buy a smaller car with better gas mileage, use cleaner gasoline, and repair pollution control equipment (PCE). However, the technology is not yet available to measure and tax each car's total emissions. We thus investigate alternative instruments. In a simple model with identical consumers, we show conditions under which the same efficiency can be attained by the combination of a tax on gas, a tax on engine size , and a subsidy to PCE. In a model with heterogeneous consumers, the same efficiency can again be obtained, but only if each person's gasoline tax rate can be made to depend on the characteristics of the car. We solve for these first-best tax rates. Assuming t...

Published: Fullerton, Don and Sarah E. West. "Can Taxes On Cars And On Gasoline Mimic An Unavailable Tax On Emissions?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2002, v43(1,Jan), 135-157. citation courtesy of

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