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The U.S. EPA's Regulatory Clean Air Benefit-Cost Estimates (30 free lunches for the price of 1?)

By Garrett Vaughn -- March 31, 2011

Last August, the the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) graded itself on its enforcement of the Clean Air Act (CAA) in terms of economic benefit-cost analysis. Surprise not: EPA came up with an astounding $31 of clean air benefits for every dollar of cost. That, and Administrator Lisa Jackson can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Deja Vu: EPA’s 1997 Study

Back in 1997, the EPA credited itself with providing $22.2 trillion in benefits at a cost of a half trillion dollars from enforcing the CAA from 1970 (when the EPA was established) through 1990 (when Congress amended the CAA in stricter form)—a B/C ratio of more than 40-to-1.

Of the EPA’s $22 trillion net benefit estimate (gross benefits less cost), economists Randall Lutter and Richard B. Belzer wrote: “We know of no professional economist independent of EPA who takes the EPA’s estimate seriously,” for—if actually true—the sum would equal “roughly the aggregate net worth of all U.S.…