Companies also inevitably overstate the costs, especially when new pollution standards come up for consideration. The great debate in the 1980s, for instance, was about acid rain, the nitric and sulfuric acids from coal-fired power plants that were poisoning the Eastern Seaboard. Some industry opponents of the standards figured reducing these emissions would cost $5.5 billion to $7.1 billion a year — or, as one glib Reagan administration official put it, $6,000 for every pound of fish saved.
In fact, the first five-year phase of the cleanup cost less than $2 billion a year — and produced benefits of more than $118 billion a year, largely in improved human health and productivity. That’s because scrubbing acid-rain pollutants from smokestacks also removes large quantities of fine particle pollution, which otherwise penetrates deep into people’s lungs. The cleanup reduced the incidence of asthma and other illnesses, improved school and workplace attendance rates, and avoided thousands of premature deaths. What Mr. Trump denounced during a campaign speech to West Virginia coal miners as “these ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete” actually kept Americans alive and made the country more competitive.
Richard Conniff, “In Beijing, and Washington, a Breath of Foul Air”, The New York Times (22 January 2017), SR8.