Estimating the Effect of a Gasoline Tax on Carbon Emissions

45 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2009

See all articles by Lucas W. Davis

Lucas W. Davis

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Lutz Kilian

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 2009

Abstract

Several policymakers and economists have proposed the adoption of a carbon tax in the United States. It is widely recognized that such a tax in practice must take the form of a tax on the consumption of energy products such as gasoline. Although a large existing literature examines the sensitivity of gasoline consumption to changes in price, these estimates may not be appropriate for evaluating the effectiveness of such a tax. First, most of these studies fail to address the endogeneity of gasoline prices. Second, the responsiveness of gasoline consumption to a change in tax may differ from the responsiveness of consumption to an average change in price. We address these challenges using a variety of methods including traditional single-equation regression models, estimated by least squares or instrumental variables methods, and structural vector autoregressions. We compare the results from these approaches, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each. Our preferred approach exploits the historical variation in U.S. federal and state gasoline taxes. Our most credible estimates imply that a 10 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax would reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 4% and reduce total U.S. carbon emissions by about 1%. We conclude that there is no statistical evidence that a gasoline tax increase of the magnitude recently contemplated by policymakers would reduce carbon emissions enough to reach the targets described by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.

Keywords: carbon tax, elasticity, gasoline consumption, gasoline tax, global warming, price endogeneity

JEL Classification: C53

Suggested Citation

Davis, Lucas W. and Kilian, Lutz, Estimating the Effect of a Gasoline Tax on Carbon Emissions (February 2009). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP7161. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1345687

Lucas W. Davis (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

545 Student Services Building, #1900
2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lutz Kilian

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics ( email )

611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
United States
734-764-2320 (Phone)
734-764-2769 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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