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The theory of pollution policy

Gloria E. Helfand, Peter Berck and Tim Maull

Chapter 06 in Handbook of Environmental Economics, 2003, vol. 1, pp 249-303 from Elsevier

Abstract: Physically, pollution occurs because it is virtually impossible to have a productive process that involves no waste; economically, pollution occurs because polluting is less expensive than operating cleanly. This chapter explores the sources and consequences of, and remedies for, pollution and associated environmental damages. If all goods had well-defined property rights and could be traded in markets, environmental goods would be no different than other goods; however, markets fail for these goods because property rights cannot or do not exist and because of the nonexclusive, nonrival nature of these goods. Thus, environmental goods provide the classic case where government intervention can increase efficiency. Achieving efficient levels of pollution involves charging per unit of pollution based on damages caused by that unit. In practice, this policy can be difficult to achieve, due to difficulties in measuring and differentiating damages by source, difficulties in monitoring and enforcing pollution policies, and the financial and political costs of pollution taxes. Additionally, pre-existing market distortions influence the nature of efficient pollution abatement strategies. Thus, many regulatory approaches that do not achieve first-best outcomes may be used because their technological or political feasibility is superior. Market-based instruments provide flexibility to polluters, while command-and-control (standards-based) approaches limit choice, often through an emissions limit or a technology requirement. Market-based approaches typically achieve a specified level of emissions with lower abatement costs than standards, but their greater efficiency may not hold in the presence of the problems mentioned above. Non-regulatory approaches to pollution control include the use of liability law to define and enforce property rights and some voluntary pollution control initiatives by polluters. While these approaches can play an important role, they are unlikely to achieve adequate provision of environmental goods.

JEL-codes: Q50 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2003
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