Intro to Environmental Economics and Policy
Econ 2277.01
Tuesday / Thursday 3 PM
Cushing 332

Instructor: Richard Sweeney

Office: Maloney Hall 385A
Office hours:
- Tuesday: 4:15 pm – 5:00 pm
- Thursday: 4:15 pm – 5:00 pm

Graduate Assistant: Paul Sarkis

Course website:
All materials and required assignments will be placed on Canvas. When in doubt, defer to Canvas.


This course provides an introduction to the economics of environmental policy. We begin by examining market failures from externalities and public goods. We then discuss public policy options to correct these failures, and develop tools to assess the costs and benefits of each approach. With this framework in place, the remainder of the course is spent evaluating specific environmental policies past and present. In addition to discussing local air pollution, water policy, conservation and natural resource management, we will spend a considerable amount of time discussing global climate change.


Principles of Microeconomics (ECON1131) is a prerequisite for this course. I will assume that you remember all important concepts from ECON1131, including supply and demand, consumer and producer surplus, opportunity cost, analysis of firms in competitive markets, etc. Math skills including summation, algebra and graphing will also be necessary. If you are feeling rusty on any of these concepts, please take the time to review them during the first week of classes.


This course is part of BC’s Affordable Course Material Initiative. So instead of using an expensive textbook, we will be relying primarily on lecture notes, academic articles, and open access materials.

That said, there is still one (inexpensive) required textbook that will help reinforce the concepts introduced in lecture:
Markets and the Environment (2nd edition), by Nathaniel Keohane and Sheila Olmstead

For students seeking additional reference, the following optional textbooks may be helpful:
The Economics of the Environment (1st Edition), by Peter Berck and Gloria Helfand
- On reserve. This text was used in previous courses.

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (10th Edition), by Tietenberg and Lewis
- One of the most popular undergraduate texts.

Environmental Economics (2nd Edition), by Charles Kolstad
- A more mathematical treatment of the topics covered in this course.

Economics of the Environment: Selected Readings (6th Edition), by Robert Stavins
- Contains many of the assigned readings for the class, as well as many other good articles for people interested in learning more about a particular topic.

Required Readings

Readings for each class are listed in the calendar and will be posted on Canvas. All readings are required unless otherwise stated. Exams will include at least one question from the readings.

Key dates:

9/11 – problem set 1 due
9/20 – problem set 2 due
10/4 – problem set 3 due
10/11 – midterm 1
10/25 – problem set 4 due
11/8 – problem set 5 due
11/15 - midterm 2
11/29 – problem set 6 due
12/9 – problem set 7 due
12/17 – final exam



Problem sets – 15 percent

  • There will be 7 problem sets. I will drop your lowest score.
  • All problem sets are due through Canvas at the start of class. Late problem sets will not be accepted.
  • You are allowed to work in groups, but each person must hand in their own problem set.
  • The problem sets will focus mainly on analytical problems. The exam problems will be similar, and this is your best way to learn these tools.
  • Answers will be made available after the problem sets are due. It is up to you to make sure you understand the solutions, and to come to my office hours if they are unclear.

Midterm exams – 40 percent

  • 20 percent each
  • Makeup exams will not be allowed. If you miss a midterm exam I will increase the weight of the final exam to 65 percent.

Final exam – 45 percent

While the course will be primarily lecture based, some classes will involve discussion of the readings. Being prepared and engaged on those days can help you on the margin when final grades are calculated.

Grade distribution:
My expectation is that the distribution of grades in this class will be similar to other economics electives - i.e. the top 33% of students receive an A or A- and the average for the class will be a B/B+. If necessary, I will curve grades upward at the end of the semester to achieve this distribution. However, if the class does better than expected I will not curve grades downward.

Important policies

Regrade policy: Answer keys for both exams will be provided. Students should go over them carefully. Anyone who feels he or she is entitled to more points than was awarded should type up a clear description of where they were incorrectly penalized and submit this to me, along with their exam, within two weeks of the exams being handed back. At that point, I will regrade the entire exam, and issue an updated exam grade (which could be higher or lower).

Attendance policy: Attendance is mandatory. 3 absences will be allowed (for any reason). Beyond that, I will drop 1 point off your final grade for each absence. If you do not think you will be able to attend lecture, do not take this course.

Seating policy: To facilitate attendance taking and classroom discussion, students will be required to sit in the same seats every class. Seats will be set on the third class (September 4).

Laptop policy: The use of laptops will not be allowed in class. If you need to use a laptop for medical reasons, please come speak to me after class.

Lecture slides: Will be posted on the course website prior to each class. I strongly suggest you print them out and take notes on them during class. (These slides draw extensively a course taught by Rob Stavins at Harvard. Support from Rob is gratefully acknowledged).

Email: I am typically off email by 9 pm. I will try to be more available right before exams, but please plan your questions accordingly.

Academic integrity: Students are advised to carefully review and abide by the university’s policies on academic integrity. Any instances of cheating or plagiarism will be reported to the Dean’s office without exception.


Course Calendar

NOTE: Reading list tentative and subject to change.
Check Canvas for required readings and assignments

Date Assignments Topic Readings  
8/28   Intro Fullerton & Stavins  
8/30   Efficiency KO 1-2  
9/4   Benefits KO pp 44-55  
9/6   Benefits cont.    
9/11 PSET 1 Benefit Transfer and VSL Cameron  
9/13   Revealed vs Stated Portney (1994)  
9/18   Costs K0 pp 35-44  
9/20 PSET 2 Costs: Jobs/ GE effects    
9/25   BCA: Mercury Rule KO pp 55-68  
9/27   BCA: Social choice    
10/2   Depletable resources KO 6  
10/4 PSET 3 Sustainability KO 11  
10/9 Fall break      
10/11 Midterm 1      
10/16   Externalities/Public goods KO 4-5  
10/18   TOC/ Fisheries KO 7  
10/23   Coase    
10/25   Cost Effectiveness    
10/30 PSET 4 Taxes    
11/1   Cap-and-trade    
11/6   Prices vs quantities KO 162-166  
11/8 PSET 5 Prices vs quantities cont    
11/13   Pollution control wrapup    
11/15 Midterm 2      
11/20   Acid Rain Program    
11/22 Thanksgiving      
11/27   Climate Change - Intro    
11/29 PSET 6 Climate Change - International    
12/4   Climate Change - National    
12/6   Climate Change - Subnational