October 1, 2001
Center for Business and Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government
This paper reviews major developments in national environmental policy during the Clinton Administration, defining environmental policy to include not only the statutes, regulations, and policies associated with reducing pollution, but also major issues of public lands management and species preservation. The authors adopt economic criteria for policy assessment -- principally efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and distributional equity. While the paper is primarily descriptive, they highlight a set of five themes that emerge in the economics of national environmental policy over the past decade. First, over the course of the decade, national environmental targets were made more stringent, and environmental quality improved. Second, the use of benefit-cost analysis for assessing environmental regulation was controversial in the Clinton Administration, while economic efficiency emerged as a central goal of the regulatory reform movement in the Congress during the 1990s. Third, cost-effectiveness achieved a much more prominent position in public discourse regarding environmental policy during the 1990s. Fourth, the Clinton Administration put much greater emphasis than previous administrations on expanding the role of environmental information disclosure and voluntary programs. Fifth, the Environmental Protection Agency placed much less emphasis on economic analysis during the 1990s.
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