The Low but Uncertain Measured Benefits of US Water Quality Policy
Keiser, David A., Catherine L. Kling, and Joseph S. Shapiro. 2018. “The Low but Uncertain Measured Benefits of US Water Quality Policy.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(12): 5262-5269.
29 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2020
Date Written: September 2018
U.S. investment to decrease pollution in rivers, lakes, and other surface waters has exceeded $1.9 trillion since 1960, and has also exceeded the cost of most other U.S. environmental initiatives. These investments come both from the 1972 Clean Water Act and the largely voluntary efforts to control pollution from agriculture and urban runoff. This paper reviews the methods and conclusions of about 20 recent evaluations of these policies. Surprisingly, most analyses estimate that these policies’ benefits are much smaller than their costs; the benefit/cost ratio from the median study is 0.37. Yet existing evidence is limited and undercounts many types of benefits. We conclude that it is unclear whether many of these regulations truly fail a benefit/cost test or whether existing evidence understates their net benefits; we also describe specific questions that when answered would help eliminate this uncertainty.
Keywords: Water Pollution; Clean Water Act; Cost-Benefit Analysis; Cost-Effectiveness Analysis; Environmental Regulation
JEL Classification: H23; H54; H70; Q50; R31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation