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.
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.
- “Localizing Environmental Regulation: The Case of Boutique Fuels,” a preliminary working paper that investigates the fuel content standards established by the US Environmental Protection Agency and their effects on reducing airborne pollutants and gasoline prices;
- “The Impact of the Clean Air Act on Particulate Matter in the 1970s,” which examines the effect on air quality in US counties in 1972 with the implementation of Clean Air Act standards for particulate matter;
- “Effects of Early Childhood Exposure to Ambient Lead and Particulate Matter on Adult Personality,” which examines how reductions in childhood exposure to emissions of lead and particulate matter in the 1970s has affected personality traits in adulthood;
- “Regulating Untaxable Externalities: Are Vehicle Air Pollution Standards Effective and Efficient?,” which examines the cost-effectiveness of past vehicle emission regulations and the potential cost-effectiveness of alternative regulatory approaches, including tighter exhaust standards and increased registration fees;
- “Valuing Statistical Life Using Seniors’ Medical Spending,” which uses Medicare records to develop estimates of willingness to pay for reducing mortality risks among senior citizens;
- “Emissions Standards and Electric Vehicle Targets for Passenger Vehicles,” which examines the interaction between federal regulations and California’s requirements for market shares of plug-in passenger vehicles;
- “Environmental Regulation, Imperfect Competition, and Market Spillovers: The Impact of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments on the US Oil Refining Industry,” which examines the cost of two US Environmental Protection Agency regulations that establish specific requirements for the constituents of vehicle fuels.
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.
Richard D. Morgenstern
Richard Morgenstern is a senior fellow at RFF. His research focuses on the economic analysis of environmental issues with an emphasis on the costs, benefits, evaluation, and design of environmental policies.
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