Discussion Paper

The Incidence of U.S. Climate Policy: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

Sep 15, 2008 | Dallas Burtraw, Richard Sweeney, Margaret A. Walls


Federal policies aimed to slow global warming would impose potentially significant costs on households that vary depending on the policy approach that is used. This paper evaluates the effects of a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program on households in each of 11 regions of the country and sorted into annual income deciles. We find tremendous variation in the incidence (the distribution of cost) of the policy. The most important feature that affects households is how the policy distributes the value created by placing a price on CO2 emissions. We evaluate 10 policy alternatives that yield results that range from moderately progressive (expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, investments in efficiency and capand-dividend) to severely regressive (reduce income taxes, free distribution to incumbent emitters and reduction of the payroll tax). To varying degrees the allocation of the value of emissions allowances amplifies or potentially resolves the tradeoff between equity and efficiency.