Looking Back at the Effectiveness of Federal Environmental Regulations

Through seven new quantitative analyses, Resources for the Future explores the extent to which proposed benefits from federal environmental regulations have actually been realized.


May 10, 2023


Working Paper

Reading time

3 minutes

Resources for the Future (RFF) has developed seven new quantitative analyses of major federal environmental regulations detailing the extent to which the regulations’ expected benefit has been delivered, and at what cost. This type of backward-looking study, which is known as retrospective analysis, can underline the effects of a given regulation on different communities, regions, and industries and highlight adverse outcomes and conflicts with other federal regulations. Retrospective analysis can also support regulatory innovation and the reform of poorly performing policies.

While estimating expected the benefits and costs of major proposed regulations has become routine, retrospective analysis of actual outcomes is rare. Often, the studies that are conducted only give limited consideration to post-implementation results. In contrast, the following working papers focus on specific outcomes for air quality, human health, and consumer welfare.

The RFF project to promote retrospective analysis of environmental regulations adds to a growing effort to introduce greater rigor and accountability in the federal regulatory process. At a March 2022 RFF workshop, paper authors and other experts discussed federal agencies’ need to learn from past experience and leverage the results to improve current and future regulations.

These seven working papers continue the workshop’s conversations, and they contribute new and refined methods of data development and analysis , policy recommendations, lessons learned for future analyses, and the identification of challenges that agencies need to tackle when conducting retrospective analyses.


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