Even though "economy" and "ecology" come from the same Greek root
- "oikos," or "house" - reconciling the marketplace and nature has
never been easy.
One measures things in dollars and cents. The other sees the
world more intangibly, sometimes ineffably.
For this reason, it's always been an uphill fight for
environmentalists arguing to protect the landscape, save an obscure
species from extinction, or clean up the air and water. Opponents
are quick to rebut with bottom-line statistics about jobs lost and
It came as a surprise, therefore, when the White House Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) recently declared that environmental
regulations are good for the economy.
Looking at a variety of areas - education, energy, housing,
health, labor, but mostly the environment - the Bush
administration's budget office reported to Congress that "the
estimated total annual quantified benefits of these rules range from
$146 billion to $230 billion, while the estimated total annual
quantified costs range from $36 billion to $42 billion."
Of these totals, according to OMB, the yearly benefits of
environmental regulations range from $121 billion to $193 billion,
the costs from $37 billion to $43 billion. In other words, benefits
of things like government-mandated clearer air and cleaner water
outweigh costs by as much as 5 to 1.
U Turn on the environment?
The trend in recent years - especially with the current
administration - has been to cut regulations where possible, or
loosen them when outright elimination was politically impractical.
Among other things, it has wanted to make it easier for older power
plants, refineries, and other industrial facilities to be upgraded
without reducing the pollution they emit.
John Graham, head of regulatory affairs at the White House Office
of Management and Budget (OMB) and a Bush appointee, once told the
conservative Heritage Foundation that "environmental regulation
should be depicted as an incredible intervention in the operation of
But another trend in judging national wealth (more advanced in
Japan and Europe) has been to take into account some of those
intangibles - "quality of life indicators" is one popular phrase -
when judging the true worth of the more traditional "gross domestic
This movement hasn't advanced that far in the United States. But
the quantifiable value of things like clean air and water are
becoming part of economic calculations, especially among those
analysts who call themselves "ecological economists. …