Commodity Storage and the Market Effects of Biofuel Policies

Published July 1, 2015 by Aaron Smith.
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US legislation passed in 2007 (RFS2) increased by about 1.3 billion bushels the net amount of corn required to be processed annually into ethanol for motor-fuel use. Using modern time-series methods, we estimate that corn prices were about 30 percent higher between 2006 and 2014 than they would have been but for RFS2 and if pre-2006 trends had continued. We estimate a permanent corn demand increase of 1.3 billion bushels increased the long-run price by 31% (90% confidence interval is [5%,95%]). Our identification strategy is unique in the literature because it enables estimation of the effects of transitory shocks, such as weather, separately from the effects of persistent shocks, such as the ethanol mandate.

Rethinking Trade-Exposure: The Incidence of Environmental Charges in the Nitrogenous Fertilizer Industry

Published June 1, 2015 by Jacob Humer and James Bushnell.
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The imposition of environmental regulations, such as greenhouse gas charges, to domestic manufacturing traditionally creates concerns over the impacts of those regulations on international competition and downstream product prices. The US Nitrogen fertilizer industry, an energy-intensive trade-exposed industry, has been considered by conventional metrics to be one of the most vulnerable to such effects. Since 2010 the industry has undergone increased concentration of producers and a dramatic reduction in US natural gas prices. While the decline in domestic gas prices has reduced production costs, it has not produced a corresponding decrease in fertilizer prices. Our research establishes that the pass-through of changes in natural gas prices, a key input to nitrogenous fertilizer, declined from roughly 80% prior to 2010 to effectively zero through 2014. One implication of this change in pricing dynamics is that the imposition of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations on producers of nitrogen fertilizers would have almost no impact on fertilizer prices. Within the context of a GHG cap-and-trade program, the allocation of emissions allowances as considered under proposed Federal legislation, and as practiced in California today, would likely result in a transfer to fertilizer producers on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars with no impact on fertilizer prices or emissions.

Policy Shocks and Market-Based Regulations: Evidence from the Renewable Fuel Standard

Published May 7, 2015 by Aaron Smith.
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The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) is a US federal policy that mandates large increases in biofuel consumption and is implemented using a market for tradeable compliance credits. We develop a dynamic model of compliance with the RFS2 in which firms face uncertainty about future relative fuel prices and future enforcement of the mandate. Our model shows how changes in expected future enforcement can have dramatic effects on the price of compliance credits and thereby have large effects on the current cost of compliance. To illustrate, we estimate empirically the effect of three ‘policy shocks’ that reduced the expected 2014 mandates and introduced significant uncertainty regarding future compliance schedules. We estimate that one shock, the release of the 2013 Final Rule in which the Environmental Protection Agency suggested it would likely reduce the 2014 mandate, decreased the value of the subsidy (tax) provided by the RFS2 to the biofuel (fossil fuel) industry in 2013 by nearly $8 billion. Similar shocks followed with two subsequent events that released preliminary versions of the 2014 mandate reductions. We conclude that the goals of the RFS2 would be better served through active management of compliance credit markets.