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For many years, there have been calls from some quarters for greater reliance on the use of economic analysis in the development and evaluation of environmental regulations. Most economists would argue that economic efficiency - measured as the difference between benefits and costs - ought to be one of the key criteria for evaluating proposed regulations. Because society has limited resources to spend on regulation, such analysis can help illuminate the trade-offs involved in making different kinds of social investments. In this sense, it would seem irresponsible not to conduct such analyses, since they can inform decisions about how scarce resources can be put to the greatest social good. In principle, benefit-cost analysis can also help answer questions of how much regulation is enough. From an efficiency standpoint, the answer to this question is simple - regulate until the incremental benefits from regulation are just offset by the incremental costs. In practice, however, the problem is much more difficult, in large part because of inherent problems in measuring marginal benefits and costs. In addition, concerns about fairness and process may be very important economic and non-economic factors. Regulatory policies inevitably involve winners and losers, even when aggregate benefits exceed aggregate costs.


Stavins, Robert N. "Is Benefit-Cost Analysis Helpful for Environmental Regulation?" Environmental Leader. August 2, 2009.