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Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits

February 27, 1976

Report Outline
Kinship Between Ecology and Economy
Problems of Water-Pollution Control
Mixed Results from Air-Pollution Fight
Questions of Solid Waste and Land Use
Special Focus

Kinship Between Ecology and Economy

The words “ecology” and “economy” come from the same etymological root—from the Greek word meaning “household management.” Yet in recent years the two words have taken on conflicting connotations, with environmental protection widely labeled an enemy of economic progress. The drive to stop pollution and clean up the environment, which came to resemble a national crusade in the giddy aftermath of Earth Day 1970, ran head-on into energy shortages, rising inflation, spreading unemployment and deepening recession in the middle years of the decade. Cleaning up the environment and getting the economy back on its feet suddenly were regarded as mutually exclusive. Industry spokesmen, labor leaders and elected officials argued strongly that environmental regulations should be relaxed to stimulate the economy and preserve jobs. Pollution control and environmental improvement were branded as luxuries the nation could ill afford.

Today, however, the tide has turned again, in an unexpected direction. Evidence is mounting that pollution control not only is compatible with economic advancement but actually may contribute to it. Much of the new evidence comes from the federal environmental agencies, which clearly have a stake in promoting pollution control, but some comes from the marketplace, Investments in pollution-control programs and equipment have been found to encourage employment, increase production. create new markets and, on balance, contribute to the national economy.

A booming new pollution-control industry has sprung up to help companies and cities meet environmental standards established by federal, state and local governments. Environmental protection also has been found to benefit the economy in indirect ways—by reducing the health, recreational, agricultural and esthetic costs and damages of pollution. These “external” effects were disregarded for decades as insignificant or unavoidable, but recent calculations have shown their true economic costs to be enormous.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Air Pollution
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Recycling and Solid Waste
Water Pollution
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