About Those "Missing" Cost-Benefit Analyses ...

While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other air pollutants are on firm political and legal footing, attacks on them continue. Claims have been made that the costs of regulation are extreme or, contradictorily, that the government has not conducted any cost analysis of these regulations.

On the side that the costs are too high, one figure bandied about recently is that all government regulations are costing the economy $1.75 trillion annually, and $280 billion of that stems from compliance with existing environmental regulations. Those figures came from a study by two Lafayette College professors done for the Small Business Administration (SBA). Yet, as widely reported, the Congressional Research Service, and even the professors themselves have disputed the methodology of the study and its use in the current frenzy of political shots at environmental regulations. In a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the methodology of the SBA report was faulted for, among other things, allowing for double counting of costs. The Lafayette College study simply adds together other previous studies on individual regulations, regardless of the approaches and methodologies of those calculations. The CRS report quotes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as having written that such a methodology is an “inherently flawed approach.”

More distressingly for those who care about making informed decisions about the economic impacts of regulation, that large figure is not balanced against any benefits those regulations might have. According to the CRS report, the authors of the Lafayette College stated that they were never asked to include benefits in their analysis. The authors were quoted as saying the report was “not meant to be a decision-making tool for lawmakers or federal regulatory agencies to use in choosing the ‘right’ level of regulation. In no place in any of the reports do we imply that our reports should be used for this purpose. (How could we recommend this use when we make no attempt to estimate the benefits?)” On the contrary, as we have explained before, the benefits of Clean Air Act regulations have far outstripped the costs in major studies.

As for those who say no economic analyses were ever done of these regulations, all federally promulgated regulations undergo a cost-benefit analysis before implementation. This requirement stretches back many presidential administrations, with each administration offering adjustments to the process. The basis for current analysis is found in Executive Order 12866, signed in 1993 by President Clinton, which provided a significant overhaul to the review process and, among other things, requires

Each agency [to] assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended
regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to
quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination
that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.

President Obama reaffirmed the inclusion of cost-benefit analysis in the regulatory process in Executive Order 13563 at the beginning of 2011.

Turning specifically to the GHG regulations implemented by the Administration, where regulatory requirements have been imposed the analyses required by OMB have been conducted and are readily available. Some critics have complained that there was not a cost-benefit analysis done of the EPA’s 2009 Endangerment Finding for GHGs. Such claims miss the fact that the Endangerment Finding was a scientific ruling that GHGs cause climate change, posing a threat to public health and welfare, and motor vehicles emit GHGs contributing to those risks. Since there were no regulatory requirements to reduce GHG emissions in this rulemaking, a cost-benefit analysis was inappropriate.

When it comes to actually reducing GHGs from emitting sources, such analyses would be appropriate, and federal agencies are required to include them as part of the rulemaking process. EPA has done so. The first rule on GHGs , the light-duty vehicle GHG emission standards promulgated jointly with Department of Transportation’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards, was issued with a Regulatory Impact Assessment that offered almost five hundred pages of detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis of the costs and benefits of the rules. The findings were that the GHG standard for light duty vehicles has an estimated cost of $52 billion and benefits of $240 billion: benefits outweighing costs by better than 4 to 1.

Upon the implementation of the light duty vehicle standards, the New Source Review program for stationary sources of GHGs was automatically triggered – without any regulatory action taken by EPA – therefore no separate cost-benefit analysis was legally required of this step. However, when EPA went through the regulatory process to create the tailoring rule to lower the compliance requirements for stationary sources, it was required to undertake an analysis. The Regulatory Impact Assessment of EPA’s tailoring rule is available on its website and includes an in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of the reduced permitting costs from the tailoring rule regulation now in effect for stationary sources. As EPA continues its rulemaking for New Source Performance Standards for utilities and refineries, fully documented regulatory impact analyses will be conducted and made available for comment with the proposed rule.

Thus, despite the claims to the contrary, EPA has in the past and will continue in the future to analyze the costs and benefits of GHG regulations. It is also clear that, to date, GHG regulations imposed by the EPA under the Clean Air Act have vastly greater benefits than costs.

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow