HEEP Discussion Papers

Covert, Thomas R. “Experiential and Social Learning in Firms: The Case of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Bakken Shale.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2014.Abstract

Learning how to utilize new technologies is a key step in innovation, yet little is known about how firms actually learn. This paper examines firms' learning behavior using data on their operational choices, profits, and information sets. I study companies using hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation, where firms must learn the relationship between fracking input use and oil production. Using a new dataset that covers every well since the introduction of fracking to this forma- tion, I find that firms made more profitable input choices over time, but did so slowly and incompletely, only capturing 67% of possible profits from fracking at the end of 2011. To understand what factors may have limited learning, I estimate a model of fracking input use in the presence of technology un- certainty. Firms are more likely to make fracking input choices with higher expected profits and lower standard deviation of profits, consistent with passive learning but not active experimentation. Most firms over-weight their own information relative to observable information generated by others. These results suggest the existence of economically important frictions in the learning process.

dp53_covert.pdf dp53_covert_two-page-summary.pdf
Heal, Geoffrey M, and Jisung Park. “Feeling the Heat: Temperature, Physiology & the Wealth of Nations.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2014.Abstract

Does temperature affect economic performance? Has temperature always affected social welfare through its impact on physical and cognitive function? While many studies have explored the indirect links between climate and welfare (e.g. agricultural yield, violent conflict, or sea-level rise), few address the possibility of direct impacts operating through human physiology. This paper presents a model of labor supply under thermal stress, building on a longstanding physiological literature linking thermal stress to health and task performance. A key prediction is that effective labor supply – defined as a composite of labor hours, task performance, and effort – is decreasing in temperature deviations from the biological optimum. We use country-level panel data on population-weighted average temperature and income (1950-2005), to illustrate the potential magnitude of the effect. Using a fixed effects estimation strategy, we find that hotter-than-average years are associated with lower output per capita for already hot countries and higher output per capita for cold countries: approximately 3%-4% in both directions. We then use household data on air conditioning and heating expenditures from the {US} to provide further evidence in support of a physiologically based causal mechanism. This more direct causal link between climate and social welfare has important implications for both the economics of climate change and comparative development.

Aldy, Joseph E, and Seamus J Smyth. “Heterogeneity in the Value of Life.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2014.Abstract

We develop a numerical life-cycle model with choice over consumption and leisure, stochastic mortalityand labor income processes, and calibrated to U.S. data to characterize willingness to pay ({WTP})for mortality risk reduction. Our theoretical framework can explain many empirical findings in thisliterature, including an inverted-U life-cycle {WTP} and an order of magnitude difference in prime-aged adults {WTP}. By endogenizing leisure and employing multiple income measures, we reconcilethe literature's large variation in estimated income elasticities. By accounting for gender- and race-specific stochastic mortality and income processes, we explain the literature's black-white and female-male differences.

Allcott, Hunt, and Richard Sweeney. “Information Disclosure through Agents: Evidence from a Field Experiment.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2014.Abstract

With a large nationwide retailer, we run a natural field experiment to measure the effects of energy use information disclosure, rebates, and sales agent incentives on demand for energy efficient durable goods. Sales incentives and rebates are complementary, but information and sales incentives alone have statistically and economically insignificant effects. Sales agents comply only partially with the experiment, targeting information at the most interested consumers but not discussing energy efficiency with the disinterested majority. In follow-up surveys, most consumers are aware of the energy efficient model and may even overestimate its benefits, suggesting that imperfect information is not a major barrier to adoption in this context.

dp52_allcott-sweeney.pdf dp52_allcott-sweeney_two-page-summary.pdf
Seo, Hee Kwon. “Can Behavioral Biases Explain Demand for a Harmful Pesticide? Evidence from India.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

Millions of cotton farmers in India use Monocrotophos, a pesticide that is both toxic—the level of exposure found in the field is linked to irreversible cognitive impairment, depression and suicidal tendencies—and inferior in efficacy to other safer, similar cost alternatives. I use three experiments to test whether misperception and inferential challenges created by a habit of mixing different inputs together explain why farmers fail to abandon Monocrotophos. I conduct a brief information campaign that reduces farmers’ self-reported plans to purchase the pesticide for the next planting season by 37%. I show how the campaign addresses behavioral biases. I discuss implications for public health policy interventions and general lessons for thinking about mechanisms for technology selection in markets where “unlearning” specious product benefits may be difficult due to psychological and behavioral stumbling blocks.

Kopczuk, Wojciech, Justin Marion, Erich Muehlegger, and Joel Slemrod. “Do the Laws of Tax Incidence Hold? Point of Collection and the Pass-through of State Diesel Taxes.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

The canonical theory of taxation holds that the incidence of a tax is independent of the side of the market which is responsible for remitting the tax to the government. However, this prediction does not survive in certain circumstances, for example when the ability to evade taxes differs across economic agents. In this paper, we estimate in the context of state diesel fuel taxes how the incidence of a quantity tax depends on the point of tax collection, where the level of the supply chain responsible for remitting the tax varies across states and over time. Our results indicate that moving the point of tax collection from the retail station to higher in the supply chain substantially raises the pass-through of diesel taxes to the retail price. Furthermore, tax revenues respond positively to collecting taxes from the distributor or prime supplier rather than from the retailer, suggesting that evasion is the likely explanation for the incidence result.

dp50_muehlegger-etal.pdf dp50_muehlegger-etal_two-page-summary.pdf
Talbott, Will. “Lighting the Way: Unlocking Performance Gains in Electricity Distribution and Retailing in India.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013. dp46_talbott.pdf
Drake, David F, and Stefan Spinler. “Sustainable Operations Management: An enduring stream or a passing fancy?” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

Paul Kleindorfer was among the first to weigh in on and nurture the stream of Sustainable Operations Management. The thoughts laid out here are based on conversations we had with Paul relating to the drivers underlying sustainability as a management issue: population and per capita consumption growth, the limited nature of resources and sinks, and the responsibility and exposure of firms to ensuing ecological risks and costs. We then discuss how an operations management lens contributes to the issue, and criteria to help the Sustainable Operations Management perspective endure. This article relates to a presentation delivered by Morris Cohen for Paul’s Manufacturing and Service Operations Management Distinguished Fellows Award, given at Columbia University, June 18, 2012. We wrote this article at Paul’s request.

Weitzman, Martin. “A Voting Architecture for the Governance of Free-Driver Externalities, with Application to Geoengineering.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

Climate change is a global "free rider" problem because significant abatement of greenhouse gases is an expensive public good requiring international cooperation to apportion compliance among states. But it is also a global "free driver" problem because geoengineering the stratosphere with reflective particles to block incoming solar radiation is so cheap that it could essentially be undertaken unilaterally by one state perceiving itself to be in peril. This paper develops the main features of a "free driver" externality in a simple model based on the asymmetric consequences of type-I and type-{II} errors. I propose a social-choice decision architecture embodying the solution concept of a supermajority voting rule and derive its basic properties. In the model this supermajority voting rule attains the socially optimal cooperative solution, which is a new theoretical result around which the paper is built.

Herrnstadt, Evan, and Erich Muehlegger. “Weather, Salience of Climate Change and Congressional Voting.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

Climate change is a complex long-run phenomenon. The speed and severity with which it is occurring is difficult to observe, complicating the formation of beliefs for individuals. We use Google Insights search intensity data as a proxy for the salience of climate change and examine how search patterns vary with unusual local weather. We find that searches for "climate change" and "global warming" increase with extreme temperatures and unusual lack of snow. The responsiveness to weather shocks is greater in states that are more reliant on climate-sensitive industries and that elect more environmentally-favorable congressional delegations. Furthermore, we demonstrate that effects of abnormal weather extend beyond search behavior to observable action on environmental issues. We examine the voting records of members of the U.S. Congress from 2004 to 2011 and find that members are more likely to take a pro-environment stance on votes when their home-state experiences unusual weather.

Cicala, Steve. “When Does Regulation Distort Costs? Lessons from Fuel Procurement in U.S. Electricity Generation.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2013.Abstract

Under what conditions does cost-of-service regulation lead firms to distort costs? This paper analyzes changes in fuel procurement practices by coal- and natural gas-fired electricity generating plants in the United States following state-level legislation that ended cost-of-service regulation among investor-owned electric utilities in the late 1990s. I construct a detailed dataset that links confidential, shipment-level data on the price of virtually all of the fuel delivered to coal- and gas-fired electricity plants in the United States from 1990-2009, with plant-level data on operations and regulatory status. Using a matched difference-in-difference estimation strategy to account for confounding shipping costs, I found the price of coal drops by 12% at deregulated plants relative to matched plants that were not subject to any regulatory change, whereas there was no relative drop in the price of gas. Deregulated plants disproportionately switch to burning low-sulfur coal rather than install capital-intensive abatement equipment to comply with environmental regulations, and expand imports from out of state by 25% if they were initially burning in-state coal. I show how these results lend support to theories of asymmetric information between generators and regulators, regulatory capture, and capital-bias as important sources of distortion under cost-of-service regulation. I then show that the drop in the price of coal is associated with a reallocation of purchases to more productive mines, rather than simply a transfer of regulatory rents from coal producers to electricity generators. Although only one quarter of U.S. coal-fired capacity has been deregulated, the end of cost-of-service regulation has reduced the price of fuel by about one billion dollars per year for these plants.

Marquis, Christopher, and Michael W Toffel. “When Do Firms Greenwash? Corporate Visibility, Civil Society Scrutiny, and Environmental Disclosure.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Under increased pressure to report environmental impacts, some firms selectively disclose relatively benign impacts, creating an impression of transparency while masking their true performance. What deters selective disclosure and leads firms to instead make disclosures more representative of their environmental performance? We hypothesize that selective disclosure, a novel symbolic strategy firms use to manage stakeholder perceptions, is mitigated by two forms of organizational visibility. Firms with greater domain-specific visibility have specific characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to stakeholder criticism and as a result are less prone to selective disclosure. In contrast, more generically-visible firms are deterred from selectively disclosing only when they are subjected to civil society scrutiny. We test our hypotheses using a novel panel dataset of 4,484 public companies in many industries, headquartered in 38 countries, during 2005-2008, when environmental disclosure increased among global corporations. We find that domain-specific visibility mitigates selective disclosure, that it mitigates selective disclosure more so than generic visibility, and that generic visibility mitigates selective disclosure only in the presence of civil society scrutiny. This research contributes to understanding how corporations manage the symbolic use of information and how corporate behavior is influenced by civil society scrutiny embedded in institutional processes.

Simcoe, Timothy, and Michael W Toffel. “Public Procurement and the Private Supply of Green Buildings.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

We measure the impact of municipal policies requiring governments to construct green buildings on private-sector adoption of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ({LEED}) standard. Using matching methods, panel data, and instrumental variables, we find that government procurement rules produce spillover effects that stimulate both private-sector adoption of the {LEED} standard and supplier investments in green building expertise. Our findings suggest that government procurement policies can accelerate the diffusion of new environmental standards that require coordinated complementary investments by various types of private adopters.

Duflo, Esther, Michael Greenstone, and Rema Hanna. “Up in Smoke: The Influence of Household Behavior on the Long-Run Impact of Improved Cooking Stoves.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

It is conventional wisdom that it is possible to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, improve health outcomes, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the rural areas of developing countries through the adoption of improved cooking stoves. This belief is largely supported by observational field studies and engineering or laboratory experiments. However, we provide new evidence, from a randomized control trial conducted in rural Orissa, India (one of the poorest places in India), on the benefits of a commonly used improved stove that laboratory tests showed to reduce indoor air pollution and require less fuel. We track households for up to four years after they received the stove. While we find a meaningful reduction in smoke inhalation in the first year, there is no effect over longer time horizons. We find no evidence of improvements in lung functioning or health and there is no change in fuel consumption (and presumably greenhouse gas emissions). The difference between the laboratory and field findings appear to result from households’ revealed low valuation of the stoves. Households failed to use the stoves regularly or appropriately, did not make the necessary investments to maintain them properly, and usage rates ultimately declined further over time. More broadly, this study underscores the need to test environmental and health technologies in real-world settings where behavior may temper impacts, and to test them over a long enough horizon to understand how this behavioral effect evolves over time.

Greenstone, Michael, and Rema Hanna. “Environmental Regulations, Air and Water Pollution, and Infant Mortality in India.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Using the most comprehensive data file ever compiled on air pollution, water pollution, environmental regulations, and infant mortality from a developing country, the paper examines the effectiveness of India’s environmental regulations. The air pollution regulations were effective at reducing ambient concentrations of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The most successful air pollution regulation is associated with a modest and statistically insignificant decline in infant mortality. However, the water pollution regulations had no observable effect. Overall, these results contradict the conventional wisdom that environmental quality is a deterministic function of income and underscore the role of institutions and politics.

dp40_hanna-greenstone.pdf dp40_hanna-greenstone_two-page-summary.pdf
Hornbeck, Richard, and Pinar Keskin. “The Historically Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Drought.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Agriculture on the American Great Plains has been constrained historically by water scarcity. In the latter half of the 20th century, technological improvements enabled farmers over the Ogallala aquifer to extract groundwater for large-scale irrigation. Comparing counties over the Ogallala with nearby similar counties, groundwater access increased agricultural land values and initially reduced the impact of droughts. Over time, land-use adjusted toward high-value water-intensive crops and drought-sensitivity increased. Farmers in nearby water-scarce counties have adopted lower-value drought- resistant practices that fully mitigate their naturally higher drought-sensitivity. The historically evolving impact of the Ogallala aquifer illustrates the importance of water for agricultural production, but also the large scope for agricultural adaptation to groundwater and drought.

Drake, David F. “Carbon Tariffs: Effects in Settings with Technology Choice and Foreign Comparative Advantage.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Carbon regulation is intended to reduce global emissions, but there is growing concern that such regulation may simply shift production to unregulated regions and increase global emissions in the process. Carbon tariffs have emerged as a possible mechanism to address these concerns by imposing carbon costs on imports at the regulated region's border. I show that, when firms choose from discrete production technologies and offshore producers hold a comparative cost advantage, carbon leakage can result despite the implementation of a carbon tariff. In such a setting, foreign firms adopt clean technology at a lower emissions price than firms operating in the regulated region, with foreign entry increasing only over emissions price intervals within which foreign firms hold this technology advantage. Further, domestic firms are shown to conditionally offshore production despite the implementation of a carbon tariff, adopting cleaner technology when they do so. As a consequence, when carbon leakage does occur under a carbon tariff, it conditionally decreases global emissions. Three sources of potential welfare improvement realized through carbon tariffs require both foreign comparative advantage and endogenous technology choice, underscoring the importance of considering both in value assessments of such a policy.

Drake, David F, Paul R Kleindorfer, and Luk N Wassenhove. “Technology Choice and Capacity Portfolios Under Emissions Regulation.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

We study the impact of emissions tax and emissions cap-and-trade regulation on a firm's long-run technology choice and capacity decisions. We study the problem through a two-stage, stochastic model where the firm chooses capacities in two technologies in stage one, demand uncertainty resolves between stages (as does emissions price uncertainty under cap-and-trade), and then the firm chooses production quantities. As such, we bridge the discrete choice capacity literature in Operations Management ({OM}) with the emissions-related sustainability literature in {OM} and Economics. Among our results, we show that a firm's expected profits are greater under cap-and-trade than under an emissions tax due to the option value embedded in the firm's production decision, which contradicts popular arguments that the greater uncertainty under cap-and-trade will erode value. We also show that improvements to the emissions intensity of the "dirty" type can increase the emissions intensity of the firm's optimal capacity portfolio. Through a numerical experiment grounded in the cement industry, we find emissions to be less under cap-and-trade, with technology choice driving the vast majority of the difference.

Schmalensee, Richard, and Robert N Stavins. “The SO2 Allowance Trading System: The Ironic History of a Grand Policy Experiment.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Two decades have passed since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 launched a grand experiment in market-based environmental policy: the {SO}2 cap-and-trade system. That system performed well but created four striking ironies. First, by creating this system to reduce {SO}2 emissions to curb acid rain, the government did the right thing for the wrong reason. Second, a substantial source of this system‘s cost-effectiveness was an unanticipated consequence of earlier railroad deregulation. Third, it is ironic that cap-and-trade has come to be demonized by conservative politicians in recent years, since this market-based, cost-effective policy innovation was initially championed and implemented by Republican administrations. Fourth, court decisions and subsequent regulatory responses have led to the collapse of the {SO}2 market, demonstrating that what the government gives, the government can take away.

Meeks, Robyn. “Water Works: The Economic Impact of Water Infrastructure.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, {USA}: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2012.Abstract

Billions of hours are spent each year on water collection in developing countries. This paper explores whether improvements in water technology enable changes in household time allocation patterns and, thereby, productivity gains. To do so, it exploits differences in the timing of shared public water tap construction across Kyrgyz villages to provide evidence on the extent to which such changes in time allocation are aided by access to better water infrastructure, a technology that decreases the labor intensity of home production. Households in villages that receive this labor-saving technological improvement are, on average, 15% more likely to be within 200 meters of their water source. This, in turn, reduced the time intensity of home production activities that are impacted by water, such as bathing, going to the doctor, and caring for children. Village-level incidence of acute intestinal infections amongst children fell by 30%. Although adults themselves show no signs of improved health, they benefit from the reductions in time spent caring for sick children. These reductions in the time intensity of home production allowed for greater time allocated towards leisure activities and market labor, specifically work on the household farm. As a result, average production of cash crops (specifically, cereals such as wheat and barley) increased by 645 kilograms per household per year. The labor supply and productivity estimates imply a rate of return to labor valuing approximately \$0.43/hour, which mirrors the hourly wage for farm labor. Taken together, these results suggest that the main channel of influence through which productivity gains were realized was increased labor supply in an environment where the classic separation of household production and consumption activities appears to hold.