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Lack of Environmental Regulation Might Ruin Your Vacation : Examples of the Benefits of Regulation & Consequences without it

By: Chris Pine

Blog Category: Economics of Environmental Regulation

Right leaning politics and business interests have long been unified by the mantra that regulation is bad for the economy.  Environmental regulation is no exception.  Republicans often characterize such regulation as an obstruction to job creation.[1]  For example, the electric utility industry projected over $7 billion in costs and tens of thousands in lost jobs as a consequence of Clean Air Act amendments regulating emissions.[2]  On the other hand, many facts and perspectives chip away at this sometimes hyperbolic characterization. One perspective regarding regulation looks at the economic benefits of regulation.

For instance, in regards to the Clean Air Act amendments mentioned above, an economist for Resources for the Future found costs to be closer to $1 billion.[3] In looking at effects, an MIT economist highlighted the reduction in infant mortality due to the clean air regulations.[4]  The economist cited gains in length of life, reduction in hospitalizations, and further health benefits that more than overcome the short-term costs of environmental regulation.[5]  A study by the Office of Management and Budget found that in general, the economic benefits of EPA regulations outweigh the short-term expenses.[6]  Like the benefits from clean air regulations, EPA regulations as a whole affect a range of health benefits across the populace.[7]  In another example, regulations on carbon emissions save on the destruction of food supplies that would result if such emissions were left unregulated.[8]

Alternatively, another perspective regarding environmental regulation looks to the economic consequences of poor environmental practices. revolves around incidents that occur for lack of regulation.  As summer creeps closer, many of us look forward to trips down the Jersey Shore. However, beaches lined with medical waste resulting from a lack of disposal regulation is not the picture we all have in mind.  The summer of 1988 saw hundreds of days on the beach lost when medical waste, including hypodermic needles, washed up on the Jersey Shore.[9]  Not only were vacations ruined, but the seasonally dependent economies of shore towns lost an estimate $1 billion that year.  Unfortunately, this medical flotsam is not just a distant memory.  In 2008, for example, Avalon, New Jersey temporarily closed several of its beaches after roughly 200 syringes washed ashore.[10]  Just last summer, beached needles caused New Jersey officials to reintroduce environmental protection legislation.[11]

The impact of environmental regulation on business is a valid concern.  But stopping there, without considering the potential economic gains from regulation, or consequences if we shirk responsibility, leaves us in continual economic jeopardy.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

[1] Mikoto Rich and John Broder, A Debate Arises on Job Creation and Environment, N.Y. Times (Sept. 4, 2011), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/05/business/economy/a-debate-arises-on-job-creation-vs-environmental-regulation.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Jeff Spross, New Study: The Economic Benefits of EPA Regulations Massively Outweigh the Costs, ThinkProgress (May 3, 2013), available at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/03/1955891/new-omb-study-the-economic-benefits-of-epa-regulations-massively-outweigh-the-costs.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Christopher Robbins, N.J. Congressman Introduces medical waste regulation after needles found on beach, NJ.com (August 15, 2013), available at http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2013/08/nj_congressman_introduces_medical_waste_regulation_after_needles_found_on_beach.html.

[10] Chris Newmaker, N.J. towns close beaches after medical waste washes ashore, USA Today (August 9, 2008), available at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/news/2008-08-29-nj-beaches-medical-waste_N.htm.

[11] Robbins, supra, note 9.

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