How Well Are Our Environmental Laws Working? Retrospective Analysis of Federal Environmental Regulation

Presenting retrospective analyses on the Clean Air Act and other past environmental regulations

Event Details

There has long been bipartisan interest in understanding how well US laws and regulations are working to achieve their intended purposes. A credible look back at past performance—referred to as retrospective, or ex-post, analysis—can help document the extent to which regulatory benefits have been realized, and at what cost. Such analyses can also illuminate any unintended consequences of regulation, e.g., adverse outcomes for certain populations or enhancement of market power. These retrospective studies are also critical in supporting future innovation in regulatory design.

Prospective, or ex-ante, analyses—more commonly known as regulatory impact analyses, or RIAs—are now routinely conducted for major new regulations. As Michael Greenstone noted a decade ago, however, RIAs are developed at the “point when the least is known.” Retrospective analyses are done after a regulation is in place, allowing the measurement of its actual effects. But many challenges impede the routine conduct of retrospective analysis of federal environmental rules. Thus, consistent measurements of actual outcomes, based on quasi-experimental or other modern methods, are extremely limited.

Given the challenges, how do we advance what we know about how well our laws (particularly our environmental laws) are working? Resources for the Future (RFF) has been leading a two-year effort to help answer this question. A distinguished set of researchers presented findings from that work on Monday, September 16—primarily focused on Clean Air Act rules—highlighting the economic and institutional issues associated with conducting retrospective analysis, while also suggesting areas for improvement.

When: Monday, September 16, 9:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Resources & Conservation Center, 1400 16th St., NW, Washington, DC, 20036


Welcome & Introduction

  • 9:00 a.m.–9:05 a.m. Welcome from Richard G. Newell
  • 9:05 a.m.–9:15 a.m. Introductory remarks from Richard Morgenstern

Presentation & Panels

“What Have We Learned About Environmental Regulation from Studies of the Clean Air Act?”
Joseph Aldy, Maximilian Auffhammer, Maureen Cropper, Arthur Fraas, and Richard Morgenstern
Presenters: Joseph Aldy and Maureen Cropper
Discussants: Richard Schmalensee, Ted Gayer, Howard Shelanski, and Nathaniel Keohane

  • 9:15 a.m.–10:00 a.m. Presentation
  • 10:00 a.m.–10:45 a.m. Discussion
  • 10:45 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Audience Q&A
  • 11:00 a.m.–11:15 a.m. Coffee Break

“A Review of Retrospective Cost Analyses of EPA Regulations”
Authors and Presenters:
Arthur Fraas, Elizabeth Kopits, and Ann Wolverton
Discussants: Al McGartland, Terry Dinan, and Dominic Mancini

  • 11:15 a.m.–11:45 a.m. Presentation
  • 11:45 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Discussion
  • 12:15 p.m.–12:30 p.m. Audience Q&A
  • 12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m. Lunch

“Institutional Dimensions of Retrospective Analysis of Regulation”
Authors and Presenters:
Lori Bennear and Jonathan Wiener
Discussants: Sally Katzen, Susan Dudley, and Jeffrey Holmstead

  • 1:30 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Presentation
  • 2:00 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Discussion
  • 2:30 p.m.–2:45 p.m. Audience Q&A
  • 2:45 p.m.–3:00 p.m. Coffee Break

“Accuracy of Policymaker Predictions of Compliance Costs”
Slides | Working Paper
Authors and Presenters:
Sylwia Bialek and Jeffrey Shrader
Discussants: Anna Alberini, Joshua Linn, and Dallas Burtraw

  • 3:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m. Presentation
  • 3:30 p.m.–4:00 p.m. Discussion
  • 4:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m. Audience Q&A

Closing Remarks

  • 4:15 p.m.–4:30 p.m. A discussion of next steps with Richard Morgenstern and Arthur Fraas
  • 4:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m. Reception



Terry Dinan

Senior Advisor, Congressional Budget Office

Elizabeth Kopits

Senior Economist, US Environmental Protection Agency

Dominic Mancini

Deputy Administrator, Office of Management and Budget

Al McGartland

NCEE Director, US Environmental Protection Agency

Ann Wolverton

Senior Research Economist, US Environmental Protection Agency

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