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Pollution Abatement Expenditures and Plant-Level Productivity: A Production Function Approach

By Ronald Shadbegian and Wayne Gray

Abstract

In this paper, we investigate the impact of environmental regulation on productivity using a Cobb-Douglas production function framework. Estimating the effects of regulation on productivity can be done with a top-down approach using data for broad sectors of the economy, or a more disaggregated bottom-up approach. Our study follows a bottom-up approach using data from the U.S. paper, steel, and oil industries. We measure environmental regulation using plant-level information on pollution abatement expenditures, which allows us to distinguish between productive and abatement expenditures on each input. We use annual Census Bureau information (1979-1990) on output, labor, capital, and material inputs, and pollution abatement operating costs and capital expenditures for 68 pulp and paper mills, 55 oil refineries, and 27 steel mills. We find that pollution abatement inputs generally contribute little or nothing to output, especially when compared to their ‘productive’ equivalents. Adding an aggregate pollution abatement cost measure to a Cobb-Douglas production function, we find that a $1 increase in pollution abatement costs leads to an estimated productivity decline of $3.11, $1.80, and $5.98 in the paper, oil, and steel industries respectively. These findings imply substantial differences across industries in their sensitivity to pollution abatement costs, arguing for a bottom-up approach that can capture these differences. Further differentiating plants by their production technology, we find substantial differences in the impact of pollution abatement costs even within industries, with higher marginal costs at plants with more polluting technologies. Finally, in all three industries, plants concentrating on change-in-production-process abatement techniques have higher productivity than plants doing predominantly end-of-line abatement, but also seem to be more affected by pollution abatement operating costs. Overall, our results point to the importance using detailed, disaggregated analyses, even below the industry level, when trying to model the costs of forcing plants to reduce their emissions.Environmental Regulation, Productivity, Pollution Abatement Costs, Technology

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