Does aggressive environmental protection hinder economic progress? Some people think so. They believe, for example, that striving for cleaner air may cost us opportunities to build a stronger economy.

But as the chart below illustrates, the experience of Massachusetts over the last few decades - against a backdrop of ever-tightening federal and state emission limits on everything from factories and power plants to the cars we drive - seems to tell a remarkably different story:

  • Our economy, as measured by total production across the state, has grown dramatically since 1980.
  • The state's population and total energy use have grown modestly but steadily during the same period.
  • Bay Staters are putting significantly more mileage on their vehicles today than they did three decades ago.

Yet emissions of four smog-causing and toxic air pollutants have dropped by 68 percent statewide during the same time frame.

So, in Massachusetts at least, the economic "opportunity cost" of cleaner air appears to be nothing more than a myth. Both our environment and our economy are significantly greener today than they were in 1980.

Image of Economic Growth & Air Quality Indicators Chart

Sources of Data:

Air Pollutant Emissions
MassDEP 

Gross State Product & Population
ISO New England (Tab 8 of Spreadsheet)

Energy Consumption
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Vehicle Miles Traveled
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration