Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review Online that the Environmental Protection Agency’s math falls short of the mark as the agency attempts to justify new air- and water-quality regulations.

It’s critically important to have high-quality cost-benefit assessments for proposed regulations, especially at the Environmental Protection Agency, which issues some of the federal government’s most expensive rules. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that the EPA has employed some suspicious math in assessing several recent regulations aimed at improving air and water quality.

For example, the EPA claims it examined the potential effects on employment as it drafted regulations for industrial boilers, commercial incinerators, and waste-water dischargers — but, the GAO found, the EPA was reaching these estimates by using 20-year-old labor-market research that examined only four industrial sectors.

“Without improvements in its estimates,” the GAO reported, “EPA’s [regulatory-impact analyses] may be limited in their usefulness for helping decision makers and the public understand these important effects.”

That’s a tactful way of saying the EPA’s assessments were completely outdated and practically useless. But don’t expect anything to change soon: “EPA officials said they are exploring new approaches for analyzing these effects but were uncertain about when such results would be available,” the GAO report noted.

Keep in mind, too, that once these rules are passed, they’re nearly impossible to roll back, a problem that has plagued the United States for decades. As early as 1999, the GAO cautioned that of 101 “economically significant regulations issued by the EPA from 1981 through 1998, only five were the subject of retrospective studies.” So if the EPA’s initial cost-benefit calculations were off the mark, it was unlikely that anyone would ever find out, much less reverse the regulations.