Real Effects of Climate Policy: Financial Constraints and Spillovers

Abstract: We document that localized policies designed to mitigate climate risk can lead to regulatory arbitrage by firms, resulting in unintended consequences. Using detailed plant-level data, we investigate the impact of the most extensive regional climate policy in the United States, the California cap-and-trade program, on corporate real activities such as greenhouse gas emissions and plant ownership. We show that industrial plants governed by the policy reduce emissions in California when the parent company is financially constrained, but that these firms internally reallocate their emissions to plants located in other states. Similarly, constrained firms are more likely to reduce ownership in Californian plants and increase ownership in plants outside California. In contrast, unconstrained firms generally do not ad-just plant emissions and ownership either in California or in other states. Overall, firms do not reduce their total emissions when part of their assets are affected by the regulation, but in fact, increase them if financially constrained. The results document real spillover effects stemming from resource reallocations by constrained firms to avoid regulatory costs, undermining the effectiveness of localized policies. Our study has important implications for the current debate on global climate policy agreements.

Authors: Söhnke M. Bartram, Kewei Hou, Sehoon Kim

Date: October 7, 2018; Last revised: October 22, 2019

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