Environmental Economics

The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act 1990 to 2010: EPA Report to Congress

The economic value of the public health and environmental benefits that Americans enjoy from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 exceed their costs by a margin of four to one, according to the study. The report projects that the Clean Air Act Amendments and their associated programs prevent thousands of premature deaths related to air pollution, and millions of asthma attacks as well as a wide range of additional human health and ecological effects.

Using a sophisticated array of computer models and the latest emissions and cost data, the study shows that in the year 2010 the Amendments of 1990 will prevent 23,000 Americans from dying prematurely, and avert over 1,700,000 incidences of asthma attacks and aggravation of chronic asthma. In addition, in 2010, they will prevent 67,000 incidences of chronic and acute bronchitis, 91,000 occurrences of shortness of breath, 4,100,000 lost work days, and 31,000,000 days in which Americans would have had to restrict activity due to air pollution related illness. In addition, it finds that 22,000 respiratory-related hospital admissions would be averted, as well as 42,000 cardiovascular (heart and blood) hospital admissions, and 4,800 emergency room visits for asthma.

The report, the most comprehensive and extensive assessment of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments ever conducted, was the subject of extensive peer review during which independent panels of distinguished economists, scientists, and public health experts provided in-depth assessment and advice throughout the study's design, implementation, and documentation. For those health and ecological benefits which could be quantified and converted to dollar values, EPA's best estimate is that in 2010 the benefits of Clean Air Act programs will total about $110 billion. This estimate represents the value of avoiding increases in illness and premature death which would have prevailed without the clean air standards and provisions required by the Amendments. By contrast, the detailed cost analysis conducted for this study indicates that the costs of achieving these health and ecological benefits are likely to be only about $27 billion, a fraction of the economic value of the benefits.

The report notes that beyond the quantified human health benefits, there are a wide range of additional human health and environmental benefits which scientists and economists cannot yet quantify and express in dollar terms. These include the control of cancer-causing air toxics as well as benefits to crops and ecosystems of reducing pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter.

Several advisory letters issued by EPA Science Advisory Board Committees on the report can be found under Fiscal Year 200 letter reports--advisories on the SAB Website.

The study is the second in a series of EPA cost/benefit Reports to Congress examining the effects of the Clean Air Act on the U.S. economy, public health, and the environment. The first study (see list of other reports in the series above), a retrospective assessment released in October 1997, found that the benefits of 1970 to 1990 clean air programs greatly exceeded costs.

The report can be downloaded below in the following files:

    File 01: Main text through Chapter 3

    File 02: Remainder of main text starting with Chapter 4

    File 03: Appendix A: Emissions Analysis

    File 04: Appendix B: Direct Costs

    File 05: First half of Appendix C: Air Quality Modeling

    File 06: Second half of Appendix C

    File 07: First half of Appendix D: Human Health Effects of Criteria Pollutants

    File 08: Second half of Appendix D

    File 09: First half of Appendix E: Ecological Effects

    File 10: Second half of Appendix E

    File 11: Appendix F: Effects of Criteria Pollutants on Agriculture

    File 12: Appendix G: Stratospheric Ozone Assessment

    File 13: Appendix H: Valuation of Human Health and Welfare Effects of Criteria Pollutants

    File 14: Appendix I: Implications for Future Research