Environmental Regulations Return Billions to Taxpayers


Tom Ash is a marine biologist and has been an environmental resource manager in the Tampa Bay area for over 26 years.

By Tom Ash.

Open practically any newspaper and you’ll probably read something about how environmental regulations are stifling economic growth. Our legislators and other government officials would like us to believe that environmental regulations are so burdensome that they take a tremendous toll on our economy, cost us jobs, and actually detract from our overall quality of life.

The truth of the matter is exactly the opposite, according to the highly respected White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a recently released Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations, the 16th such report since 1997.

This report, like the 15 before it, “…summarizes estimates by Federal regulatory agencies of the quantified and monetized benefits and costs of major Federal regulations reviewed by OMB over the last ten years…”

Although mainstream media generally missed the point, the estimated annual costs of these environmental regulations were between $57 billion and $84 billion — while the estimated benefits ranged between $193 billion and $800 billion. From a taxpayer perspective, that means that we’re earning returns of between 852% and 1303% per year on our investment in environmental protection. Even at its best, the stock market never returned profits like that!

Some other highlights from the report:

  • Seven of nine similar studies have shown increases in employment, one showed a decrease, and one was inconclusive.
  • As with previous reports, the monetized benefits continue to be significantly higher than the monetized costs.
  • The overwhelming majority of rules have net benefits.
  • Significant benefits to our quality of life are realized in the form of decreased exposure to environmental contaminants, fewer visits to health care professionals, and lowered mortality rates.
  • Benefits exceeded costs in every fiscal year and the highest benefit year, in terms of the midpoint of the range of estimates, was 2007.

This last point strikes a particular chord with most environmental professionals to whom I have spoken. Environmental regulations have been continually attacked by state and local politicians for years in Florida, but never so brazenly as they have since the economic downturn of 2008.

If you believe the naysayers attacking environmental regulations, you would have to believe that the very same environmental regulations that were in place in 2007, when so many people were making money hand-over-fist, are somehow to blame for our financial situation today.

The banking industry, unstable housing markets, and lax regulatory over-site caused the economy to crash — not environmental regulations and not those who have dedicated their careers to upholding them for the betterment of our society. No matter how hard some people try to vilify environmental regulations, all the while distracting your attention away from the real root cause(s) of our recent economic struggles, it simply isn’t so.

To see a copy of the full report, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/inforeg/2013_cb/draft_2013_cost_benefit_report.pdf.

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