Valuing the Air: The Politics of Environmental Regulation from the Clean Air Act to Carbon Trading


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Fifty years ago, the environmental movement convinced Americans that strong regulations were needed to protect human health and the natural world against the compounding detritus of industrial society. Meanwhile, environmental economists argued that markets should value the environment by pricing the social effects of degradation. Congress followed the environmentalists, passing legislation in the early 1970s to protect the public from noxious emissions and effluents, regardless of price. But as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quickly discovered, defending major regulatory interventions against criticism from industry required environmental advocates to convincingly establish the economic benefits of environmental protection. Thus, this project tells the story of how the natural environment acquired economic value. By leaning on cost/benefit analysis to justify regulations, EPA contributed to the ascendance of economics in policymaking; yet by simultaneously rejecting economists’ calls to let markets price the environment, EPA perpetuated moral and romantic values written into the 1970s legislation.