State environmental policies may not influence the economy one
way or another, according to a study conducted by a political
science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Stephen M. Meyer set out to examine the theory that the
pursuit of environmental quality, or "environmentalism," hinders
opportunities for substantial economic growth and development.
Further, he pondered the questions of whether states with
stronger environmental standards would lag economically behind
states with weaker standards, and whether progress hinged on a
choice between jobs and the environment.
In his initial report, issued in fall 1992, "states with
higher environmental rankings outperformed states with lower
environmental rankings in four of five economic growth
indicators. This surprising yet solid finding allows us to
dismiss the environmental impact hypothesis with even greater
While students of the study could have concluded that
environmentalism boosts an economy, Meyer cautioned that view
wasn't necessarily a foregone conclusion. Sure enough, in an
updated supplemental report issued in February, he said the
research data could not be interpreted to show that stronger
environmental standards produce stronger economic growth.
When Meyer embarked on his research project, he said he
expected to find a small-to-modest negative association between
environmentalism and economic prosperity. "In other words, the
economic performance of states with stronger environmental
standards would not measure up to that of states with weaker
environmental standards," the update report said.
"This would have confirmed the prevailing political wisdom at
Meyer used five "primary indicators of economic growth and
prosperity" for his research: gross state product, total non-farm
employment, construction employment, manufacturing labor
productivity and overall labor productivity.
"Those who live and work in states that have vigorously
pursued environmental quality and are now contemplating rolling
back environmental standards as a quick fix to jump-starting
their economies out of recession should reconsider," the report
Meyer concluded that stronger environmental standards
implemented over the past 20 years were "economy neutral." On the
whole, they neither hindered nor helped the economy, he said. "On
a state-to-state basis, measurable economic growth has not been
stifled, state competitiveness has not been undermined and jobs
have not been sacrificed at the altar of environmentalism," he
The results could indicate a "dynamic balance," Meyer said.
That means the number of industries hurt by stronger
environmental controls could have been offset by the number that
prospered under stronger controls. "The latter are likely to be
more modern, vigorous and competitive industries and firms," he
To blame environmental regulations for dampening the economy
is to focus on "what is certainly one of the least influential
factors affecting the pace of economic growth and development,"
the report said. "The benefits of environmental protection are
obvious and demonstrable. It is clear from the data and analyses
presented in this report that the states can pursue environmental
quality without fear of impeding economic prosperity.
For those who continue to argue that environmentalism hurts
economic growth and prosperity, the burden of proof now clearly
falls on their shoulders," Meyer said. . .
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