control expenditures due to improved information would amount to more than $10 billion per year in efficiencies for the nation.
Another potentially valuable application of environmental accounting relates to management of the nation's public lands. The nation's forests, rangelands, and waters provide a broad spectrum of valuable economic services. The federal government today reaps substantial revenues from timber harvesting, mining, and leasing of rangelands. A better set of accounts would probably indicate that current leasing policies are providing substantial subsidies. Between May 1994 and September 1996, mining companies patented claims on federal lands with an estimated gross mineral value of $15.3 billion, yet the charge to lessees for these claims was only $19,190. Because the accounting for federal mineral values was incomplete, the full resource value is not currently estimated. Similar subsidies are found in timber and rangeland (see Council of Economic Advisers, 1997). Improved accounts would help decision makers estimate the value of such federal assets and set more realistic prices for leases and patents.
Another area in which comprehensive accounts would be of great benefit is assessment of the costs and benefits of measures to slow greenhouse warming. Under the Kyoto Protocol of December 1997, the United States has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent in the 2008-2012 period relative to 1990 emissions. The reductions are to include not only reduced emissions from industrial sources, but also the reductions resulting from carbon sequestration in forests. A comprehensive set of physical and economic accounts would provide the information base needed to estimate the carbon sequestration in forests. Current estimates are that approximately 200 million tons per year of carbon is being accumulated in forests. The nation would save $20 billion annually if a comprehensive set of measures and accounts verified this level of sequestration, if this sequestration could be used to offset industrial emission reductions, and if those industrial emission reductions cost $100 per ton of carbon. This is one of the most dramatic examples of the benefits of establishing comprehensive nonmarket physical and economic accounts.
Economists have developed a new view of the role of data collection, in which data are valuable because they allow better decisions to be made by both the public and private sectors. For example, better weather forecasting allows farmers to harvest their crops so as to reduce damage from frost. Another area that has been intensively studied is the value of better information about the science and economics of climate change. Governments and private firms, such as oil and coal companies and electric utilities, must cope with the enormous uncertainties in this area. Many of these uncertainties result from inadequate accounting of the costs of emission reductions and the potential impact of climate change in nonmarket