A laboratory study of auctions for reducing non-point source pollution

Timothy N. Cason, Lata Gangadharan, Charlotte Duke

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97 Citations (Scopus)


Non-point source pollution, such as nutrient runoff to waterways from agricultural production, is an environmental problem that typically involves asymmetric information. Land use changes to reduce pollution incur opportunity costs that are privately known to landholders, but these changes provide environmental benefits that may be more accurately estimated by regulators. This paper reports a testbed laboratory experiment in which landholder/sellers in sealed-offer auctions compete to obtain part of a fixed budget allocated by the regulator to subsidize abatement. In one treatment the regulator reveals to landholders the environmental benefits estimated for their projects, and in another treatment the regulator conceals the potential projects' "environmental quality." The results show that sellers' offers misrepresent their costs more for high-quality projects when quality is revealed, so total abatement is lower and seller profits are higher when landholders know their projects' environmental benefits. This suggests that concealing this information may improve regulatory efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-471
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • Auctions
  • Environmental regulation
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Land use change

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