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The Cost of Environmental Protection


  • Pizer, William

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Morgenstern, Richard

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Shih, Jhih-Shyang

    () (Resources for the Future)


Expenditures for environmental protection in the U.S. are estimated to exceed $150 billion annually or about 2% of GDP. This estimate, based on largely self-reported information, is often cited as an assessment of the burden of current regulatory efforts and a standard against which the associated benefits are measured. Little is known, however, about how well reported expenditures relate to true costs. The potential for both incidental savings and uncounted burdens means that actual costs could be either higher or lower than reported expenditures. A significant literature supports the notion that increases in reported environmental expenditures probably understate actual economic costs. Estimates of the true cost of a dollar increase in reported environmental spending range from $1.50 to $12. This paper explores the relationship between reported expenditures and economic cost in the manufacturing sector in the context of a large plant-level data set at the four-digit SIC level. We use a cost function modeling approach which treats both environmental and non-environmental production activities as distinct, unrelated cost minimization problems for each plant. We then explore the possibility that these activities are, in fact, related by including reported regulatory expenditures in the cost function for non-environmental output. Under the null hypothesis that reported regulatory expenditures accurately measure the cost of regulation, the coefficient on this term should be zero. In ten of eleven industries studied, including all of the heavily regulated industries, this null hypothesis is accepted using our preferred fixed-effects model. Our best estimate, based on an expenditure weighted average of the four most heavily regulated industries, indicates that an incremental dollar of reported environmental expenditure reduces non-environmental production costs by eighteen cents with a standard error of forty-two cents. This is equivalent to saying that total costs rise by eighty-two cents for every dollar increase in reported environmental expenditures. Using an alternative pooled model we find uniformly higher estimates. Although consistent with previous results, we believe these higher estimates are biased by omitted variables characterizing differences among plants. Summarizing, our results enable us to reject claims that environmental spending imposes large hidden costs on manufacturing plants. In fact, our best estimate indicates a modest though statistically insignificant overstatement of regulatory costs.

Suggested Citation

  • Pizer, William & Morgenstern, Richard & Shih, Jhih-Shyang, 1998. "The Cost of Environmental Protection," Discussion Papers dp-98-36, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-98-36

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Wayne B. Gray, 2015. "Environmental regulations and business decisions," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 187-187, September.
    2. Shital Sharma, 2013. "Environmental Regulation, Abatement, and Productivity: A Frontier Analysis," Working Papers 13-51, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    3. Anna Belova & Wayne B. Gray & Joshua Linn & Richard D. Morgenstern, 2013. "Environmental Regulation And Industry Employment: A Reassessment," Working Papers 13-36, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    4. repec:spr:agfoec:v:5:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1186_s40100-017-0080-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Isaksson, Lena Hoglund, 2005. "Abatement costs in response to the Swedish charge on nitrogen oxide emissions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 102-120, July.
    6. Kneller, Richard & Manderson, Edward, 2012. "Environmental regulations and innovation activity in UK manufacturing industries," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 211-235.
    7. Morgenstern, Richard D. & Ho, Mun & Shih, J.-S.Jhih-Shyang & Zhang, Xuehua, 2004. "The near-term impacts of carbon mitigation policies on manufacturing industries," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(16), pages 1825-1841, November.
    8. Wilhelm Althammer & Erik Hille, 2016. "Measuring climate policy stringency: a shadow price approach," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 23(4), pages 607-639, August.
    9. Michael Gallaher & Cynthia Morgan & Ronald J. Shadbegian, 2008. "Redesign of the 2005 Pollution Abatement Costs and Expenditure Survey," NCEE Working Paper Series 200801, National Center for Environmental Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revised Jan 2008.
    10. Morgenstern, Richard & Harrington, Winston & Nelson, Per-Kristian, 1999. "On the Accuracy of Regulatory Cost Estimates," Discussion Papers dp-99-18, Resources For the Future.
    11. Parsons, George R. & Myers, Kelley, 2016. "Fat tails and truncated bids in contingent valuation: An application to an endangered shorebird species," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 210-219.
    12. Nigar Hashimzade & Gareth Donald Myles, 2017. "Do Corporate Environmental Contributions Justify the Public Interest Defence?," CESifo Working Paper Series 6755, CESifo Group Munich.
    13. Pizer, William & Kopp, Raymond & Morgenstern, Richard & Harrington, Winston & Shih, Jhih-Shyang, 2002. "Technology Adoption and Aggregate Energy Efficiency," Discussion Papers dp-02-52, Resources For the Future.
    14. Dowlatabadi, Hadi & Boyd, David & MacDonald, Jamie, 2004. "Model, Model on the Screen, What's the Cost of Going Green?," Discussion Papers dp-04-17, Resources For the Future.
    15. Nick Johnstone & Julien Labonne & CĂ©linc Thevenot, 2008. "Environmental policy and economies of scope in facility-level environmental practices," Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Springer;Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies - SEEPS, vol. 9(3), pages 145-166, September.

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