Economic instruments, such as effluent fees and tradable discharge permits (TDP), have often been suggested by economists as efficient or cost-effective means to control pollution. In recent years such instruments have received increasing attention due to their growing political acceptability. Still, their use in practice has been tentative. The interest in possible application of such instruments has led to a set of studies regarding their practical potential. These studies indicate that economic instruments require substantial government involvement, entailing high administration cost; require restrictions so as to prevent significant deterioration in receptor areas; and have ambivalent effects on innovation adoption. Consequently, the efficiency gains from such instruments may be smaller than potential gains identified in earlier studies. In addition, the distributional impacts of such instruments and their possible adverse effect on market contestability reduce their attractiveness in some cases. These findings raise the question: what is the desired role of economic instruments in addressing environmental concerns? In recent years the demand for environmental services has increased dramatically. Current legislation and studies indicate that desired environmental expenditures are likely to increase. At the same time environmental programs face increasing competition from other programs for a declining pool of general revenues. One outcome of these processes has been the search for alternative sources of funds for environmental programs. Furthermore, as the competition for general revenue funds increases, the allocation of such funds for environmental programs becomes less predictable. This may endanger many long-term environmental programs that require stable funding. This article suggests that economic instruments may prove one source of dedicated funds for many environmental goals. Consequently, studies of environmental-program financing as well as studies of economic instruments may well explore the possible role of economic instruments as financing tools. Some examples of the potential of such tools for estuary cleanup programs are discussed.
- Economic instruments