Lisa Heinzerling, Frank Ackerman, and Rachel Massey. Georgetown Law Journal. April 2010.
“Applying Cost-Benefit Analysis to Past Decisions: Was Environmental Protection Ever a Good Idea?” challenges the reigning dogma of cost-benefit analysis by asking two simple questions. “If this analytical device had been applied in the 1970s and earlier, would it have endorsed the early successes of health and environmental regulation? Or would it have resulted in negative judgments wherever and whenever it was applied?”
The authors argue that the latter is clearly the case, because many of out strongest environmental laws were passed before cost-benefit analysis became widespread and they clearly didn’t destroy the economy (or the various sectors most directly affected by the new regulations). The paper looks at the removal of lead from gasoline, the decision to not dam the Grand Canyon for hydroelectric power, and the OSHA regulation of vinyl chloride in 1974, and demonstrates that cost-benefit analysis would have gotten them all wrong.