NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Toward More Enlightened Environmental Regulation

November 15, 2000

A suit by the nation's truckers against the Environmental Protection Agency is before the U.S. Supreme Court. The truckers contend pending EPA regulations designed to reduce smog-causing ozone and soot are unreasonable because costs would exceed benefits.

A number of observers believe that if the Court requires cost-benefit analysis, the result will be less pollution and greater public health benefits.

  • The EPA contends it must use only possible health benefits in determining whether to impose regulations, and says it is prohibited from considering costs.
  • Critics say rules promulgated under the Clean Air Act using cost-benefit analysis might achieve superior results -- or the same results at lower costs -- if they were arrived at using better economic logic.
  • Cost-benefit analysis would force EPA to concentrate on serious pollution problems affecting health, while relegating less serious concerns to the back burner.

While lawmakers are often uncomfortable at putting a dollar value on human life -- which cost-benefit analysis would require -- it is done every day in formulating more enlightened public policy decisions. When major environmental regulation was first enacted in the 1970s, little was known about the economic impact of pollution -- but that is no longer the case today.

Hundreds of economists have studied how best to achieve ecological safeguards. Environmental economics departments now exist in many major universities. And entire think tanks devote themselves to the task.

Source: Gregg Easterbrook, "Green Values," New Republic, November 13, 2000.


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