Informing the Debate over Environmental Regulations

As political debate over environmental regulations continues to intensify, a researcher from the University of Maryland Department of Economics suggests looking to the past to improve regulatory policies in the future.

Distinguished University Professor and Economics Chair Maureen Cropper co-authored a Policy Forum piece forthcoming in Science on March 31 that encourages government leaders to spend time researching whether regulations have been successful—before deciding to disband them.

“Positions promoted by the current administration question the effectiveness of many federal regulations, making their rigorous analysis all the more critical,” Cropper said. “Yet this type of analysis is relatively rare, especially when it comes to environmental rules, which make up the largest category of federal regulation in the United States.”

Cropper points out that regulatory impact analyses are typically conducted before a proposed rule is adopted by federal agencies, but not after it has gone into effect. She and her co-authors detail four steps the government can take to improve the evaluation of regulations intended to improve the health of the environment: collect data on compliance costs associated with regulations; gather emissions data from facilities and manufacturing plants and make them accessible to researchers and the public; implement regulations to provide a control group that can be used to measure the effects of a rule; and formalize requirements for retrospective analysis of regulations.

“Research-based evidence is critical for understanding and improving the impact of government regulation on society,” Cropper said. “Directing more resources into understanding the results of regulations will help the U.S. government prioritize and legitimize current and future actions.”

smoke and smog billow in the air