Industry-Backed Study Exaggerates Regulatory Costs, Ignores Benefits

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What are the costs and benefits of the safeguards that protect Americans from big polluters, predatory lenders and junk food giants?

It’s not an unusual question, but you won’t get a fair answer in a new report published this morning by the American Action Forum (AAF) – a front group for corporate interests headed by former Bush administration officials. The report purports to provide the cost of all regulations, proposed and final, issued during 2014.

As has been the case with previous AAF reports, this one focuses exclusively on costs – leaving out both the quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits of the rules and regulations they considered.

Just look at the White House’s new Clean Power Plan to see why it’s wrong to ignore the benefits of safeguards. Cleaning up our nation’s power plants would cost less than $9 billion, but could yield more than $90 billion in health and environmental benefits – preventing more than 6,000 premature deaths and as many as 150,000 asthma attacks annually.

You’d think industry and their well-paid spokesmen would understand the concept of “return on investment,” but apparently not when it comes to our children and families.

History has shown that regulations (once implemented) usually cost far less than the estimates AAF uses. That’s because those estimates are based on exaggerated industry figures, ignore flexibilities built into the regulations and fail to account for technological innovations that reduce costs.

Indeed, AAF’s report is misleading from the very first line. It claims to have found $16.9 billion in costs from final rules issued in 2014. But its $181 billion total for proposed and final rules issued last year in fact includes rules issued in all previous years of the Obama administration – assuming that the annual costs of previous rules just continue in perpetuity. That assumption is plainly false.

And so are the group’s claims about the effects on our economy. Despite the doom and gloom forecasts in AAF’s report, the past year has seen outstanding job growth and rising consumer confidence – exactly the opposite of what AAF predicted.

If this report demonstrates anything, it’s that some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.