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New Essay Examines 50 Years of Environmental Protection Policy Evolution

November 8, 2019

Doug Gavel
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act, one of the most consequential environmental laws ever passed by Congress, today’s polarized politics in Washington seemingly precludes (?) the possibility of any similar bipartisan legislation anytime soon. In a new essay published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Harvard Kennedy School Professor...

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Lord Nicholas Stern

Climate Change Economist Stresses Urgency of Action in Harvard Lecture

October 21, 2019

By Doug Gavel
One of the world’s most prominent climate change economists isn’t backing away from his guarded optimism about the future. Lord Nicholas Stern, the I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government and Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment at the London School of Economics, told hundreds who gathered at the Geological Lecture Hall...

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Learn about HEEP

HEEP is a university-wide initiative addressing today's complex environmental challenges and is based in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. Learn more by reading director Robert Stavins' welcome message.

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Environmental Insights podcast interview with Nick Stern

Recent Publications

Stavins, Robert. “The Future of U.S. Carbon-Pricing Policy.” Working Paper (Working Paper).Abstract
There is widespread agreement among economists – and a diverse set of other policy analysts – that at least in the long run, an economy-wide carbon pricing system will be an essential element of any national policy that can achieve meaningful reductions of CO2 emissions cost-effectively in the United States. There is less agreement, however, among economists and others in the policy community regarding the choice of specific carbon-pricing policy instrument, with some supporting carbon taxes and others favoring cap-and-trade mechanisms. This prompts two important questions. Which – if either – of the two major approaches to carbon pricing is superior in terms of relevant criteria, including but not limited to efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and distributional equity? And which of the two approaches is more likely to be adopted in the future in the United States? This paper addresses these questions by drawing on both normative and positive theories of policy instrument choice as they apply to U.S. climate change policy, and draws extensively on relevant empirical evidence. The paper concludes with a look at the path ahead, including an assessment of how the two carbon-pricing instruments can be made more politically acceptable.
Richard, Schmalensee, and Robert Stavins. “Policy Evolution Under the Clean Air Act.” Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2018.Abstract
The U.S. Clean Air Act, passed in 1970 with strong bipartisan support, was the first environmental law to give the Federal government a serious regulatory role, established the architecture of the U.S. air pollution control system, and became a model for subsequent environmental laws in the United States and globally. We outline the Act’s key provisions, as well as the main changes Congress has made to it over time. We assess the evolution of air pollution control policy under the Clean Air Act, with particular attention to the types of policy instruments used. We provide a generic assessment of the major types of policy instruments, and we trace and assess the historical evolution of EPA’s policy instrument use, with particular focus on the increased use of market-based policy instruments, beginning in the 1970s and culminating in the 1990s. Over the past fifty years, air pollution regulation has gradually become much more complex, and over the past twenty years, policy debates have become increasingly partisan and polarized, to the point that it has become impossible to amend the Act or pass other legislation to address the new threat of climate change.
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2019 Nov 22

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