. "2 The National Income and Product Accounts: History and Application to the Environment." Nature's Numbers: Expanding the National Economic Accounts to Include the Environment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1999.
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work of a set of national accounts would help regularize their collection and ensure consistency over time and across sectors.
In the case of environmental resources such as air and water quality, a comprehensive set of environmental accounts would provide useful information on the economic returns the nation is reaping from its environmental investments. The contrast between private and public investments is instructive. When a private company makes an investment in an automobile factory or a power plant, company accounts can be used to estimate the economic costs and benefits of that investment. Yet although the nation has allocated more than $1 trillion to environmental, health, and safety investments over the last quarter-century, there is no comparable set of accounts by which to reckon the nation's returns to those investments. Improved environmental accounts would also provide essential information for sound benefit-cost analyses in regulatory decision making. One of the most serious weaknesses in the U.S. environmental database is the lack of comprehensive and reliable data on actual human exposures to major pollutants. Better information on physical emission trends, human exposures, and the economic impacts and damages from air and water pollution would be valuable for expanded accounting measures of productivity. Hence, both the underlying information and the aggregate dollar values in environmental accounts would provide essential information for ensuring that our environmental regulations pass an appropriate cost-benefit test.
Investing in Comprehensive Accounts Would Yield a High Economic Return for the Nation
The federal government currently makes a substantial investment in collecting, analyzing, and distributing statistical data on the nation's economy. This information is valuable in part simply because we are curious about ourselves as a nation. We want to know what we are producing and consuming, to compare ourselves with other nations, and to assess the trends in economic activities. But provision of statistical data is also an investment in a public good. Having more complete, accurate, and timely data on economic activity requires the resources and data-collection abilities of the government. Data for economic accounts will not be provided by the private sector both because the private sector does not have access to the full range of administrative data available to government agencies and because there is little private economic profit in gathering and providing comprehensive economic accounts. Yet while the federal government invests heavily in the collection and distribution of economic data, it has to date invested very little in providing comprehensive economic accounts. And while many in the private sector have