March 16, 2009
Who Pays for Climate Policy? New Estimates of the Household Burden and Economic Impact of a U.S. Cap-and-Trade System
by Andrew Chamberlain
Many U.S. lawmakers view cap and trade as a politically superior non-tax approach to climate policy. However, cap and trade imposes identical economic burdens on households to a similarly designed carbon tax. Using the newly-released 2002 input-output accounts we present new estimates of the distributional impact of a typical cap-and-trade system by income, age, U.S. region and family type. In total, households would face an annual burden of roughly $144.8 billion per year with costs disproportionately borne by low-income households, those under age 25 and over 75 years, those in Southern states, and single parents with dependent children. Using RIMS II multipliers we estimate the broader economic impact of cap and trade. Depending on how the system is structured, cap and trade could reduce U.S. employment by 965,000 jobs, household earnings by $37.8 billion, and economic output by $136 billion per year or roughly $1,145 per household. Lawmakers weighing the costs and benefits of climate policy should be aware that cap and trade would impose a significant and regressive annual burden on U.S. households, and would not represent a "tax free" way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.