ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY eJOURNAL
"Curb Your Enthusiasm for Pigouvian Taxes"
San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 14-151
VICTOR FLEISCHER, University of San Diego School of Law
Pigouvian (or "corrective") taxes have been proposed or enacted on dozens of products and activities that may be harmful in excess: carbon, gasoline, fat, sugar, guns, cigarettes, alcohol, traffic, zoning, executive pay, and financial transactions, among others. Academics of all political stripes are mystified by the public’s inability to see the merits of using Pigouvian taxes more frequently to address serious social harms.
This enthusiasm for Pigouvian taxes should be tempered. A Pigouvian tax is easy to design — as a uniform excise tax — if one assumes that each individual causes the same amount of harm with each incremental increase in activity on the margin. This assumption of uniform marginal social cost pairs well with the limited information and enforcement capacity of tax institutions. But when marginal social cost varies significantly, a Pigouvian tax will not lead to an optimal allocation of economic resources. Focusing on carbon emissions, where the assumption of uniform marginal social cost happens to be reasonable, obscures this common design flaw.
Broadly speaking, Pigouvian taxes should be employed only when (1) the harm is (or is properly analogized to) global pollution, and where the harm does not vary based on the source, or (2) the variation in marginal social cost is easily observed and categorized, as with traffic congestion charges.
This straightforward insight has broad implications for how we design any targeted tax or subsidy. It explains why a carbon tax would work reasonably well, but some other environmental taxes would not. It explains why most food taxes are doomed to fail. It explains why most sin taxes are designed to raise revenue, not change behavior. It explains why so many tax subsidies are ineffective. And, more constructively, it identifies the limited conditions when Pigouvian taxes or subsidies should be employed.
"Project Finance and Sustainable Development in the Global South"
Shawkat Alam et al., eds., International Environmental Law: Perspectives from the Global South, Cambridge University Press, 2014, Fothcoming
SHALANDA HELEN BAKER, University of San Francisco School of Law
This chapter explores the dominant mechanism for financing energy development projects — project finance — and argues that the assumptions supporting its prevalent use are ill suited for sustainable development in the Global South. This critique aligns itself with the growing chorus of voices calling for a retrenchment of neoliberal development, more active engagement by the state, and greater community involvement in development choices. The chapter begins with an explication of project finance. This introduction provides an overview of much of the literature that lauds project finance as a mechanism to hedge and reduce developer economic risk. The section also underscores the key features and assumptions of project finance. The second part of the chapter introduces a case study involving the development of wind energy resources in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, one of the windiest places in the world. Drawing on this case study, the final section explores many of the ways in which project finance may undermine sustainable development in Oaxaca. The section revisits the assumptions underlying project finance, and suggests that these assumptions may be inconsistent with the goals of sustainable development. Thus, the chapter argues, project finance, as a mechanism for financing energy projects in the Global South, may need to be substantially altered or altogether abandoned as the prevailing financing mechanism for projects designed to meet the goals of sustainable development.
"Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster"
Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster (NYU Press 2014)
CHRISTINE A. KLEIN, University of Florida - Levin College of Law
SANDRA B. ZELLMER, University of Nebraska at Lincoln - College of Law
American engineers have done astounding things to bend the Mississippi River to their will: forcing one of its tributaries to flow uphill, transforming over a thousand miles of roiling currents into a placid staircase of water, and wresting the lower half of the river apart from its floodplain. But despite our best efforts, so-called "natural disasters" continue to strike the Mississippi basin, as raging floodwaters decimate waterfront communities and abandoned towns literally crumble into the Gulf of Mexico. In some places, only the tombstones remain, leaning at odd angles as the underlying soil erodes away. "Mississippi River Tragedies" reveals that it is seductively deceptive — but dangerously misleading — to call such catastrophes "natural."
This is the introductory chapter from a general interest law and history book published by NYU Press (2014). It focuses on a trio of federal water policies developed over the past century that have lured people into harm's way and transformed otherwise natural catastrophes into unnatural disasters: 1) the National Flood Insurance Program, 2) federal disaster relief, and 3) federal flood-control levees and dams. The book contains two over-arching themes: how African Americans, Native Americans, and the poor have suffered disproportionately from federal water policies; and how the regulatory takings doctrine has in some cases shifted risk from floodplain residents to taxpayers.
"La Prevención Como Principio Del Sistema De Evaluación De Impacto Ambiental En Chile (Prevention as a Principle of the Environmental Impact Assessment System in Chile)"
Justicia Ambiental, p. 199, 2013
EZIO S. COSTA CORDELLA, Facultad de Derecho
Spanish Abstract: La prevención está presente en el derecho ambiental chileno desde sus orígenes y se pone de manifiesto de manera especial en lo que se refiere al Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental (SEIA). Es en efecto la prevención, en la forma del Principio Preventivo, la que da buena parte del sustento lógico a la existencia de este sistema de evaluación, por lo que su observancia es clave para el éxito del mismo. Esto ha sido reconocido recientemente por nuestras Cortes a propósito de varios casos de gran connotación y especial en relación a una controversial práctica de la administración consistente en imponer como medida en las Resoluciones de Calificación Ambiental la realización de estudios que debían conformar parte integrante de la evaluación ambiental, contraviniendo este espíritu preventivo.
English Abstract: Prevention is one of the basis of Chilean environmental law. The Environmental Assessment System (SEIA) is an example of this preventive logic, as it own existence is connected with the need of prevent negative environmental impacts. Recently, the prevention principle has been on the centre of several decisions from the Supreme Court regarding relevant environmental cases, recognizing that this principle is indeed a basis of the system and thus that is not possible to approve projects before having all the required information, being illegal set in the approval resolution the obligation of the proponent to do further studies, which was a controversial practice of the Environmental Assessment Agency.
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