An official website of the United States government.

Due to a lapse in appropriations, EPA websites will not be regularly updated. In the event of an environmental emergency imminently threatening the safety of human life or where necessary to protect certain property, the EPA website will be updated with appropriate information. Please note that all information on the EPA website may not be up to date, and transactions and inquiries submitted to the EPA website may not be processed or responded to until appropriations are enacted.

We've made some changes to EPA.gov. If the information you are looking for is not here, you may be able to find it on the EPA Web Archive or the January 19, 2017 Web Snapshot.

Working Paper: The Impacts of Environmental Regulation on the U.S. Economy

Paper Number: 2017-01

Document Date: 7/2017

Author(s):  Ann Ferris; Richard Garbaccio; Alex Marten; Ann Wolverton

Subject Area(s): Economic Impacts, Air Pollution, Costs of Pollution Control

JEL Classification:

Q52 - Pollution Control Adoption Costs; Distributional Effects; Employment Effects
Q53 - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling
Q58 - Government Policy

Keywords: Economic impacts, environmental regulation, economic productivity, employment, plant location, social welfare, health benefits

Abstract: Concern regarding the economic impacts of environmental regulations has been part of the public dialogue since the beginning of the U.S. EPA. Even as large improvements in environmental quality occurred, government and academia began to examine the potential consequences of regulation for economic growth and productivity. In general, early studies found measurable but not severe effects on the overall national economy. While price increases due to regulatory requirements outweighed the stimulative effect of investments in pollution abatement, they nearly offset one another. However, these studies also highlighted potentially substantial effects on local labor markets due to the regional and industry concentration of plant closures. 

More recently, a substantial body of work examined industry-specific effects of environmental regulation on the productivity of pollution-intensive firms most likely to face pollution control costs, as well as on plant location and employment decisions within firms. Most econometric-based studies found relatively small or no effect on sector-specific productivity and employment, though firms were less likely to open plants in locations subject to more stringent regulation compared to other U.S. locations. In contrast, studies that used economy-wide models to explicitly account for sectoral linkages and intertemporal effects found substantial sector-specific effects due to environmental regulation, including in sectors that were not directly regulated.

It is also possible to think about the overall impacts of environmental regulation on the economy through the lens of benefit-cost analysis. While this type of approach does not speak to how the costs of regulation are distributed across sectors, it has the advantage of explicitly weighing the benefits of environmental improvements against their costs.  If benefits are greater than costs, then overall social welfare is improved. When conducting such exercises, it is important to anticipate the ways in which improvements in environmental quality may either directly improve the productivity of economic factors – such as through the increased productivity of outdoor workers – or change the composition of the economy as firms and households change their behavior.  If individuals are healthier, for example, they may choose to reallocate their time between work and leisure. While introducing a role for pollution in production and household behavior can be challenging, studies that have partially accounted for this interconnection have found substantial impacts of improvements in environmental quality on the overall economy.

This paper is part of the Environmental Economics Working Paper Series.

You may need a PDF reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.