Co-Benefits and Regulatory Impact Analysis: Theory and Evidence from Federal Air Quality Regulations
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Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Environmental and Energy Policy and the Economy, volume 2, Matthew Kotchen, James H. Stock, and Catherine Wolfram, editors
This paper considers the treatment of co-benefits in benefit-cost analysis of federal air quality regulations. Using a comprehensive data set on all major Clean Air Act rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency over the period 1997-2019, we show that (1) co-benefits make up a significant share of the monetized benefits; (2) among the categories of co-benefits, those associated with reductions in fine particulate matter are the most significant; and (3) co-benefits have been pivotal to the quantified net benefit calculation in nearly half of cases. Motivated by these trends, we develop a simple conceptual framework that illustrates a critical point: co-benefits are simply a semantic category of benefits that should be included in benefit-cost analyses. We also address common concerns about whether the inclusion of co-benefits is problematic because of alternative regulatory approaches that may be more cost-effective and the possibility for double counting.