Agricultural & Resource Economics Theses and Dissertations

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    Three Essays on Environmental Economics
    (2023) Beatty, Lauren; Linn, Joshua; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Oil and gas production is associated with numerous types of environmental damages and hazards. This dissertation is a collection of three essays which empirically examine how oil and gas production affects environmental outcomes, with a particular lens on avenues for policy to remediate these damages. In chapter 1, I focus on the joint relationship between drilling, building pipelines, and emissions. Most oil wells co-produce natural gas. Producers can choose to burn this valuable co-product on site (known as flaring) if the cost of connecting to the existing natural gas pipeline network is sufficiently high. I construct and estimate a dynamic model of producer drilling and flaring decisions which depend on the current state of the pipeline network and expectations over its evolution. My model also allows producers to internalize spillover effects for their neighbors -- any pipeline they build will extend the network and weakly decrease their neighbors' future pipeline connection costs. Using my model estimates, I simulate pipeline development and flaring outcomes under counterfactual policies. My counterfactual simulations show that flaring abatement costs are higher than previous studies but suggest that a flaring tax could substantially reduce flaring. A $\$5/$Mcf tax reduces flaring by $39\%$. In chapter 2, I focus on the non-point source pollution nature of methane emissions from oil and gas production. New scientific literature demonstrates that methane emissions from oil and gas production are a far larger problem than previously estimated. However, very little economics work has been conducted on this problem. Methane emissions are caused by leaked natural gas which escapes during the normal operation of equipment as well as leaks from faulty equipment. This implies that there are two avenues to abate emissions -- operators can install more efficient pumps and pneumatic devices, or they can expend more effort finding and fixing leaks from faulty equipment. In this chapter, I seek to understand how operators respond to prices on each margin using output from an inverse atmospheric modelling tool which outputs a gridded inventory of emissions. If producers primarily abate emissions through capital upgrades, then an input-based scheme where the regulator observes capital choices, then asses a tax on imputed emissions will be fairly efficient. I find that both channels of abatement are important, and that a tax on imputed emissions would achieve significantly less emissions reductions than an equivalent Pigouvian tax. Finally in chapter 3, I focus on policy options to deal with governmental liabilities from abandoned oil and gas wells. There are hundreds of thousands of aging oil and gas wells scattered throughout the United States that pose serious environmental and safety risks. These well sites will require billions of dollars of investment in remediation. When producers go bankrupt before remediation is complete, the responsibility to clean up the site often lands with either the state or federal government. These wells are known as orphan wells, and have received increasing attention in the scientific and policy literature. In this chapter, I estimate a model of well-level status transitions, then use my model to simulate how a policy requiring producers to either bring wells back into production or plug them after two years of inactivity would affect well orphan rates. I find that since many wells are left inactive for years at a time, this simple policy would be an effective way to decrease government plugging responsibilities and prevent environmental damage without dramatically reducing oil and gas production.
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    Fifty Shades of Green - Essays on Eco-friendly Consumption, Public Policy, and Income Inequality
    (2023) Gutiérrez Mendieta, Aldo; Uler, Neslihan; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation offers a thorough examination of the impact of income inequality on environmental quality, with particular attention to the obstacles encountered by low-income individuals and families in adopting sustainable and environmentally friendly consumption practices. Through the development of a general theoretical model, I provide a novel approach on understanding the dynamics of this relationship. By examining various income inequality scenarios, I assess their effects on environmental quality. Based on these findings, I propose a policy recommendation that addresses both income inequality and environmental concerns. Additionally, I propose an innovative laboratory experiment to empirically validate the theoretical predictions of the general model.In Chapter 1 I present a brief introduction emphasizing the significance of examining the impact of income inequality on the environment. he importance of exploring the individual trade-offs associated with consuming environmentally friendly goods (referred to as 'green goods'), which are more expensive, compared to their environmentally harmful counterparts (referred to as 'brown goods'), which are cheaper to buy. Building upon this framework of green and brown goods, I introduce a general model in Chapter 2 to comprehend individual behavior and investigate the impact of income inequality on environmental quality. This theoretical model offers insights into why income inequality can lead to improved, worsened, or neutral outcomes for the environment, which provides an explanation for the mixed empirical evidence found in previous studies. In Chapter 3, I propose a solution to address the issues of income inequality and the externality generated by the consumption of brown goods simultaneously. I propose the implementation of a permit market in which a regulatory agency issues a limited number of permits to cap the total demand for brown goods, thereby preventing environmental quality from falling below a predetermined threshold. Consumers have the opportunity to trade these permits, enabling income transfers from buyers to sellers and ultimately reducing income inequality. Finally, in Chapter 4 I present the design and analysis of a novel laboratory experiment aimed at empirically testing the theoretical predictions derived from the model introduced in Chapter 2. The experimental results reveal a positive effect of income inequality on environmental quality across all treatments, contradicting the predicted negative effect in specific scenarios. To account for these deviations, I augment the theoretical model by integrating two behavioral motivations, which effectively elucidate the observed behavior. These extensions not only contribute to a deeper understanding of the empirical findings but also offer promising prospects for further research exploration.
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    (2023) Eguiguren Cosmelli, José Manuel; Alberini, Anna; Archsmith, James; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Two critical steps for reaching lower carbon economies are associated with the performance of electricity markets. First, at the generation level, it is essential to advance in the decarbonization of the electricity mix. Second, at the consumption level, it is fundamental to incentivize a shift from fossil fuels to electricity use within the transportation, industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. Also, the study of these markets in developing economies is essential because nearly all the growth in energy demand is forecasted to come from those countries (Wolfram et al. (2012)). My dissertation consists of three essays related to electricity provision in developing countries. The first essay is about demand-side management programs among poor households in Colombia. I evaluate how low-income households in a major Colombian city respond to an unexpected hybrid price/non-price energy-saving policy. Using hourly household electricity consumption data I find that, on average, households reduce electricity consumption by 4.5% as a result of the policy. It is striking is that even low-income households, who consume relatively small amounts of electricity, respond to energy-saving policies and can engage in conservation behaviors in the short term, helping the electricity sector avoid blackouts. The effect is stronger the higher the household pre-treatment electricity consumption levels and smaller among poorer households. However, the heterogeneity in terms of income level vanishes once I control for household pre-program electricity consumption levels. The second one is related to the cost of regulation in wholesale electricity markets and provides evidence for the Chilean market. The paper concerns the side effects of price controls in regulated industries: I unveiled inefficiencies associated with cost-based offer prices -offers set administratively- in wholesale electricity markets. Using variation in the competitive environment introduced by a major transmission interconnection between the Southern and the Northern regions in Chile, I show that with the commissioning of the new transmission line, the difference in the average cost-based offer prices between coal generating units of both areas increased by 20\%. This finding is puzzling because theory suggests that an electricity interconnection should increase the extent of competition faced by electricity suppliers at both ends of it, which should imply that their offer prices tend to converge. This unexpected result directly results from manipulating the main cost parameter firms report to the regulator: the coal price. I argue that what explains this behavior is the existence of a regulatory distortion inherent to cost-based offer price wholesale market designs that compensate generating units that operate with losses, such that they will always receive a payment for the electricity they sell at least equal to their cost-based offer price, which, under certain circumstances, lead them to inflate their reported cost parameters. The adverse effect of this regulation increases in an abundance of renewable-based electricity, such as solar or wind-based ones, as is the case of the Chilean electricity market. The main implication on market outcomes associated with the opportunistic behavior I found, compare to a situation in which the coal price is imputed by the regulator, is an increase of the wholesale market price of 2.9% for the six months after the interconnection. The increase in the wholesale market price would imply a transfer from consumers to producers of US$ 88 MM in a period of one year, equivalent to 2.9% of the total revenue of the system and 6.7% of the total cost of generation. The third essay is about the role of governance and management in Latin American and Caribbean countries electric utilities' performance. The paper empirically analyzes the role of governance and management of electricity distribution utilities in the quality of the service provided and their profitability. To measure the quality of service, we use a customer satisfaction index and two standard measures of electricity service interruption -SAIDI and SAIFI. For the profitability variables, the analysis is made on the EBITDA and assets rate of return. Using data from 17 Latin America and Caribbean countries and 150 electricity distribution utilities, we found that establishing instances of governance and managements controls, investing in their commercial strategy, and improving the technical and operational capacity to reduce losses will result in a better service for their customers and higher returns for their investors. Moreover, the paper found that governance and management variables explain, in a not lesser percentage, the high heterogeneity observed among companies in their quality-of-service and profitability indicators.
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    (2023) Kraynak, Daniel; Williams, Roberton; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation is composed of three applied economics essays about important topicsin public and environmental economics. The first is an analysis of the distributional effects of demand shocks or demand-shifting policies in the context of energy markets and climate policy. The second focuses on the use of remote monitoring technology and its effects on the provision of the local public good of public safety. The third analyzes the effect of imperfect real-world carbon pricing policies on carbon emissions. Chapter 1 studies the impact of declining coal demand on local labor markets in coal mining regions of the US. I separate the effect of a recent contraction in the coal industry from other factors driving economic trends in coal country by constructing an instrument for coal demand from producing counties. The instrument combines a regional model of coal plant dispatch with variation in the exposure of producing counties to demand shocks from the electricity sector. My estimates demonstrate that demand-driven declines in the value of coal produced eliminate jobs primarily in coal mining and adjacent industries, with the largest effects occurring in Appalachia and the West. I also estimate decreases in in-migration, home values, and expenditures on public education, and increases in poverty. Applied in a stylized spatial equilibrium model of location choice, my estimates imply an aggregate decline of $0.5-1 billion in the economic welfare of coal country residents resulting from a net decline of $3.7 billion in thermal coal production value from 2007- 2017. In Chapter 2, using a novel data set on CCTV cameras in Chandigarh, India, we test whether police officers’ effort changes in response to the presence of traffic cameras. Although the cameras are useful in sanctioning drivers, they can also capture the passive (shirking) or active (rent-seeking) corruption of officers. Accounting for the spatial and temporal variations in the operation of the cameras, we find that the presence of a functioning camera results in an increase in on-the-ground tickets. Although we do not rule out possible decreases in rent-seeking behavior, a decline in passive corruption appears to be driving the increase in officer ticketing behavior, particularly for the most common vehicles and violations that can be observed from the CCTV cameras. Our findings indicate that remote monitoring technology can serve, if not a substitute for, then as a complement to on-the-ground enforcement. In Chapter 3, we contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence on the efficacy of carbon pricing policies, much of which finds that carbon pricing has produced only modest reductions in emissions. We hypothesize that a complex policy environment and political uncertainty are two possible mechanisms behind the limited effects measured in the literature. We focus on the experience of Australia which substantially expanded subsidies for renewable energy in 2009 and also implemented a controversial carbon “tax” from 2012- 2014 before it was repealed. Using synthetic control and recent extensions, we estimate the joint effect of the subsidy expansion and the tax to be substantial. We explore the dynamic nature of the treatment effect as it relates to the changing political environment and explore the mechanisms for the observed reduction in emissions.
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    Dynamics of Capital Investment and Pollution Externalities in Wholesale Electricity Markets
    (2022) Holt, Christopher; Linn, Joshua; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    The field of environmental economics was built on the notion of internalizing into markets the social harm caused by pollution. This dissertation examines the implications of putting that idea into practice in the electric power generation sector, with a particular focus on market structure and short- and long-run industry dynamics. Environmental policy to mitigate climate change seeks to transform the capital composition of industries for the purpose of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In deregulated wholesale electricity markets, firms may exercise long-run market power through investment and retirement decisions which affect future wholesale price settlement. In Chapter 1, I develop a dynamic structural model of the Texas electricity market spanning 2003-2019 to analyze how long-run market power exercise and environmental policy for reducing carbon emissions affect the capital composition of the industry over time. I find that market power exercise led to significant early fossil fuel plant retirements over this period, with an attendant decrease in consumer surplus on the order of $1.6 billion annually. Further counterfactual analysis suggests that federal production tax credits for wind power expanded the deployment of wind by approximately 73 percent, but the associated reductions in emissions were more than twice as costly as would have been achieved under a $20-per-ton carbon tax. In Chapter 2 I delve further into the issue of market structure and long-run dynamics. Economic theory suggests that setting the wholesale price of electricity at the marginal social cost of unmet demand during periods of scarcity results in optimal capacity investment in the presence of perfect competition. I examine the implications of applying this principle in a setting where competition is imperfect, and where the market was structured prior to the introduction of competition (deregulation) and therefore not established through firms’ profit maximizing behavior. I build a stylized model that approximates the effects of a scarcity price mechanism under the hourly demand distribution observed in the Texas wholesale electricity market in 2017. I use this model to demonstrate that the scarcity price mechanism may encourage incumbent firms with large portfolios to retire plants, and that firms with a threshold amount of existing infra-marginal generation capacity will be unwilling to invest in new capacity. I then use a dynamic structural model to demonstrate that the scarcity price mechanism introduced in Texas in 2014 accelerated turnover over the period 2014-2019 by driving greater retirement of capacity in addition to greater investment, relative to a counterfactual scenario in which the scarcity price design was not implemented. In Chapter 3 I shift my focus from long-run industry dynamics and environmental policy concerning a global pollutant (carbon dioxide) to short-run dynamics and harm from a local pollutant (ground-level ozone). NOx emissions are a precursor to ground-level ozone, a pernicious pollutant that is harmful to human health and ecosystems. Despite decades of regulations including NOx emissions pricing, and a corresponding precipitous decline in NOx emissions, episodic high-ozone events prevent many areas from achieving air quality standards. Theoretically, spatially or temporally differentiated emissions prices could be more cost-effective at reducing such events than a uniform price. To test this prediction, using data from the EPA and NOAA spanning 2001-2019, we use novel empirical strategies to estimate (1) the link between hourly emissions and high-ozone events and (2) hourly marginal abatement costs. The estimates form the basis for simulations that compare uniform and differentiated emissions pricing. Consistent with economic theory, differentiated emissions pricing is substantially more cost effective at reducing high-ozone events, but this advantage depends on the accuracy of the estimated NOx-ozone relationship.