Kevin Lewis

June 14, 2017

Bag "Leakage": The Effect of Disposable Carryout Bag Regulations on Unregulated Bags
Rebecca Taylor
University of California Working Paper, May 2017


Governments often regulate the consumption of products with negative externalities (e.g., gasoline, tobacco, sugar). Leakage occurs when partial regulation results in increased consumption of products in unregulated parts of the economy. If unregulated consumption is easily substituted for regulated consumption, basing the success of a regulation solely on reduced consumption in the regulated market overstates the regulation’s welfare gains. This article quantifies leakage from an increasingly popular environmental policy — the regulation of disposable carryout bags (DCB). In California, DCB policies prohibit retail food stores from providing customers with thin plastic carryout bags at checkout and require stores to charge a minimum fee for paper carryout bags. However, all remaining types of disposable bags are unregulated (e.g., garbage bags, food storage bags, paper lunch sacks). Using quasi-random variation in local government DCB policy adoption in California from 2008-2015, I employ an event study design to quantify the effect of bag regulations on the consumption of plastic and paper carryout bags, as well as the consumption of other disposable bags sold. This article brings together two data sources: (i) weekly retail scanner data with product-level price and quantity information from 201 food stores in California, and (ii) observational data collected at checkout in seven Californian supermarkets. The main results show that a 40 million pound reduction of plastic from the elimination of plastic carryout bags is offset by an additional 16 million pounds of plastic from increased purchases of garbage bags (i.e., sales of small, medium, and tall garbage bags increase by 67%, 50%, and 5%, respectively). Additionally, DCB policies lead to a 69 million pound increase in paper carryout bags used annually. Altogether, I show that DCB policies are shifting consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. This bag "leakage" is an unintended consequence of DCB policies that offsets the benefits of reduced plastic carryout bag use. I conclude by discussing the environmental implications of policy-induced changes in the composition of plastic and paper bags, with respect to carbon footprint, landfilling, and marine pollution.

Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands
Jennifer Lavers & Alexander Bond
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 June 2017, Pages 6052–6055


In just over half a century plastic products have revolutionized human society and have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments in every corner of the globe. The hazard plastic debris poses to biodiversity is well established, but mitigation and planning are often hampered by a lack of quantitative data on accumulation patterns. Here we document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world, up to 671.6 items/m2 (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Approximately 68% of debris (up to 4,496.9 pieces/m2) on the beach was buried

Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School and Juvenile Detention Records
Anna Aizer & Janet Currie
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


Using a unique dataset linking preschool blood lead levels (BLLs), birth, school, and detention data for 120,000 children born 1990-2004 in Rhode Island, we estimate the impact of lead on behavior: school suspensions and juvenile detention. We develop two instrumental variables approaches to deal with potential confounding from omitted variables and measurement error in lead. The first leverages the fact that we have multiple noisy measures for each child. The second exploits very local, within neighborhood, variation in lead exposure that derives from road proximity and the de-leading of gasoline. Both methods indicate that OLS considerably understates the negative effects of lead, suggesting that measurement error is more important than bias from omitted variables. A one-unit increase in lead increased the probability of suspension from school by 6.4-9.3 percent and the probability of detention by 27-74 percent, though the latter applies only to boys.

Shale Gas Development and Drinking Water Quality
Elaine Hill & Lala Ma
American Economic Review, May 2017, Pages 522-525


Recent studies have linked shale gas development (SGD) to ground water contamination. The extent of these environmental externalities, to date, remains uncertain. To address this gap, we examine whether shale gas development systematically affects drinking water quality by creating a novel dataset that relates SGD to public drinking water samples in Pennsylvania. Our difference-in-differences strategy finds evidence that additional well pads drilled within 1 kilometer of a community water system intake increases shale gas-related contaminants in drinking water. These results are striking considering that our data are based on water sampling measurements taken after municipal treatment.

On the road to recovery: Gasoline content regulations and child health
Michelle Marcus
Journal of Health Economics, July 2017, Pages 98–123


Gasoline content regulations are designed to curb pollution and improve health, but their impact on health has not been quantified. By exploiting both the timing of the regulation and spatial variation in children's exposure to highways, I estimate the effect of gasoline content regulation on pollution and child health. The introduction of cleaner-burning gasoline in California in 1996 reduced asthma admissions by 8 percent in high exposure areas. Reductions are greatest for areas downwind from highways and heavy traffic areas. Stringent gasoline content regulations can improve child health, and may diminish existing health disparities.

Handle with Care: The Local Air Pollution Costs of Coal Storage
Akshaya Jha & Nicholas Muller
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


Burning coal is known to have environmental costs; this paper quantities the local environmental costs of transporting and storing coal at U.S. power plants for the sample period 2002-2012. We first demonstrate that a 10% increase in coal stockpiles (number of deliveries) results in a 0.07% (0.16%) increase in the average concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) for locations up to 25 miles away from, and downwind from, plants. We next assess the impacts of PM2.5 on average adult and infant mortality rates using coal stockpiles and deliveries as instruments for PM2.5. Our findings within this instrumental variables framework indicate that a 10% increase in PM2.5 leads to a 1.1% (6.6%) increase in average adult (infant) mortality rates; these causal estimates are similar in magnitude to the epidemiological estimates used by the USEPA in their regulatory impact analyses. Our estimated increase in mortality rates implies local environmental costs of $183 ($203) per ton of coal stockpiled (delivered); to put this in perspective, the average power plant paid roughly $48 per ton for coal during our sample period. These sizable but highly localized environmental costs of coal transportation and storage disproportionately impact the economically disadvantaged communities living near coal-fired power plants.

The local employment impacts of fracking: A national study
Peter Maniloff & Ralph Mastromonaco
Resource and Energy Economics, August 2017, Pages 62–85


This paper quantifies the local economic impacts of hydraulic fracturing. We match extremely detailed oil and natural gas well data to county-level aggregate and sectoral employment data. Controlling for time-varying unobserved determinants of job growth, we find approximately 550,000 local jobs attributable to the shale boom. While this is substantial, it is smaller than previous studies. We also show that the effects are heterogenous across sectors. Impacts are concentrated in extractive industries, in local non-tradable and service sectors, and in areas with the largest increase in drilling activity.

Information provision and consumer behavior: A natural experiment in billing frequency
Casey Wichman
Journal of Public Economics, August 2017, Pages 13–33


In this study, I estimate a causal effect of increased billing frequency on consumer behavior. I exploit a natural experiment in which residential water customers switched exogenously from bimonthly to monthly billing. Customers increase consumption by 3.5–5 percent in response to more frequent information. This result is reconciled in models of price and quantity uncertainty, where increases in billing frequency reduce the distortion in consumer perceptions. Using treatment effects as sufficient statistics, I calculate consumer welfare gains equivalent to 0.5–1 percent of annual water expenditures. Heterogeneous treatment effects suggest increases in outdoor water use.

Asian Americans and disproportionate exposure to carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants: A national study
Sara Grineski, Timothy Collins & Danielle Morales
Social Science & Medicine, July 2017, Pages 71–80


Studies have demonstrated disparate exposures to carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) in neighborhoods with high densities of Black and Hispanic residents in the US. Asians are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the US, yet they have been underemphasized in previous studies of environmental health and injustice. This cross-sectional study investigated possible disparities in residential exposure to carcinogenic HAPs among Asian Americans, including Asian American subgroups in the US (including all 50 states and the District of Columbia, n = 71,208 US census tracts) using National Air Toxics Assessment and US Census data. In an unadjusted analysis, Chinese and Korean Americans experience the highest mean cancer risks from HAPs, followed by Blacks. The aggregated Asian category ranks just below Blacks and above Hispanics, in terms of carcinogenic HAP risk. Multivariate models adjusting for socioeconomic status, population density, urban location, and geographic clustering show that an increase in proportion of Asian residents in census tracts is associated with significantly greater cancer risk from HAPs. Neighborhoods with higher proportions (as opposed to lower proportions) of Chinese, Korean, and South Asian residents have significantly greater cancer risk burdens relative to Whites. Tracts with higher concentrations of Asians speaking a non-English language and Asians that are US-born have significantly greater cancer risk burdens. Asian Americans experience substantial residential exposure to carcinogenic HAPs in US census tracts and in the US more generally.

Economic Losses From a Fire in a Dense-Packed U.S. Spent Fuel Pool
Frank von Hippel & Michael Schoeppner
Science & Global Security, Summer 2017, Pages 80-92


In 2013, the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated the reduction of the off-site economic losses from a fire in a drained U.S. spent fuel pool if fuel that had cooled for more than five years were transferred to dry cask storage — an option it called “expedited transfer.” In this article, it is shown that the savings would be much higher than the NRC estimated. Savings increase to about $2 trillion if: losses beyond 50 miles are included; the land-contamination threshold for long-term population relocation is changed to that used for the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents and recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and, based on the experience of Japan, decontamination of land areas to levels acceptable for population return is assumed to take at least four years. If expedited transfer were implemented, the off-site economic losses would be reduced by about 98%.

How Transaction Costs Obstruct Collective Action: Evidence from California's Groundwater
Andrew Ayres, Eric Edwards & Gary Libecap
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


Collective action to remedy the losses of open access to common-pool resources often is late and incomplete, extending rent dissipation. Examples include persistent over-exploitation of oil fields and ocean fisheries, despite general agreement that production constraints are needed. Transaction costs encountered in assigning property rights are an explanation, but analysis of their role is limited by a lack of systematic data. We examine governance institutions in California’s 445 groundwater basins using a new dataset to identify factors that influence the adoption of extraction controls. In 309 basins, institutions allow unconstrained pumping, while an additional 105 basins have weak management plans. Twenty of these basins are severely overdrafted. Meanwhile, users in 31 basins have defined groundwater property rights, the most complete solution. We document the critical role of transaction costs in explaining this variation in responses. This research adds to the literatures on open access, transaction costs, bargaining, and property rights.

Noise pollution is pervasive in U.S. protected areas
Rachel Buxton et al.
Science, 5 May 2017, Pages 531-533


Anthropogenic noise threatens ecological systems, including the cultural and biodiversity resources in protected areas. Using continental-scale sound models, we found that anthropogenic noise doubled background sound levels in 63% of U.S. protected area units and caused a 10-fold or greater increase in 21%, surpassing levels known to interfere with human visitor experience and disrupt wildlife behavior, fitness, and community composition. Elevated noise was also found in critical habitats of endangered species, with 14% experiencing a 10-fold increase in sound levels. However, protected areas with more stringent regulations had less anthropogenic noise. Our analysis indicates that noise pollution in protected areas is closely linked with transportation, development, and extractive land use, providing insight into where mitigation efforts can be most effective.

Does Forest Loss Increase Human Disease? Evidence from Nigeria
Julia Berazneva & Tanya Byker
American Economic Review, May 2017, Pages 516-521


We examine the impact of forest loss on three infectious diseases attributed to modifiable environmental factors in the last decade in Nigeria. Geolinking a new high-resolution dataset of global forest change to child-level health data from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Surveys from 2008 and 2013, we find that forest loss significantly increases the incidence of malaria, though it does not affect the incidence of diarrhea and respiratory diseases. The impact of forest loss on malaria is large and the dynamic pattern of the impact suggests a temporary ecological disturbance consistent with findings in the tropical medicine literature.

Lags, Costs, and Shocks: An Equilibrium Model of the Oil Industry
Gideon Bornstein, Per Krusell & Sergio Rebelo
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


We use a new micro data set to compile some key facts about the oil market and estimate a structural industry equilibrium model that is consistent with these facts. We find that demand and supply shocks contribute equally to the volatility of oil prices but that the volatility of investment by oil firms is driven mostly by demand shocks. Our model predicts that the advent of fracking will eventually result in a large reduction in oil price volatility.

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