Environmental Policy under Reagan's Executive Order: The Role of Benefit-Cost Analysis

By V. Kerry Smith | Go to book overview

2RICHARD N. L. ANDREWS *
ECONOMICS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DECISIONS, PAST AND PRESENT

EXECUTIVE Order 12291 represented at face value a major symbolic commitment to economic efficiency as the goal and benefit-cost analysis as a primary means of evaluating federal regulations. Other chapters in this volume address in detail the questions of how the order has been interpreted and implemented and whether this apparent symbolic commitment has in fact been realized. This chapter addresses a prior issue: what was the significance of the executive order itself? What was new about it, if anything? How did it emerge from the prior histories both of economic analysis and of what has come to be called social regulation -- the regulation of health, safety, and environmental quality? And what implications does it hold for the future development of those domains?

My thesis is that the executive order represents a new and significant twist in three interwoven threads of historical development, all of which were well under way before the Reagan presidency: first, the development of benefit-cost analysis as a methodology for evaluating public projects and programs; second, the integration of economic analysis into many federal regulatory decision processes, often by statute and specifically in most environmental regulatory decisions; and third, the use of economic impact claims as arguments for greater executive or legislative control over regulatory agencies, arguments used increasingly by the regulatory reform and antiregulatory movements that gathered momentum beginning in the mid- 197Os. All these threads incorporated economic analysis, but each in prac-

____________________
*
Professor of Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Director, Institute for Environmental Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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