Think tanks have opposed environmental regulations by casting doubt on the environmental problems that the regulations are supposed to be preventing. They have labelled the science which environmentalists and regulators have presented to make their case for regulation as 'junk science', and called for 'sound science' to be the basis for regulation. This is a term that the tobacco industry used in its fight against smoking regulations and which now "a rallying cry for a professional netowrk of dergulation activists and sympathetic politicians who argue that many environmental and public health laws should be repealed".
Think tanks also attacked regulation on the grounds that it should be assessed for its impacts and those impacts or costs should be extensively and comprehensively compared with the benefits of the legislation using cost-benefit analysis and also considered in the light of an exhaustive risk assessment of the problems the regulation was targeting. What is more, any impacts of the regulations on private property holders should be compensated as regulatory takings. All these measures were not only designed to make it more difficult to make a case for regulation but also to slow down the process of regulation making by bogging down regulators in endless studies and analyses of risks, costs and impacts so that regulations would take years to effect. In addition regulatory takings legislation would make it much more expensive to enact regulations.
Having succeeded in persuading decision makers that environmental problems are uncertain and not in urgent need of remedy, think tanks then cleared the path for a challenge to environmental regulations. Nowhere has this challenge been so effective as in the US Congress. The Republican’s ‘Contract with America’, which was heavily influenced by think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, included a number of measures aimed at repealing existing environmental regulations, preventing new ones with a moratorium on new regulations, and disabling the authorities that enforce environmental regulations.
For example, the Congress passed appropriations riders during the 1990s aimed at inhibiting the ability of government agencies to implement environmental and other regulations and the Heritage Foundation urged the Senate to also pass them:
The most promising short-term solution is to use the appropriations process to restrict the use of government funds to pursue questionable regulations until a general overhaul of the regulatory process can be achieved. Such riders not only would cool the regulatory zeal of federal agencies, but also encourage the Administration to show more cooperation in negotiating substantive reform.
Cato Institute adjunct scholar, David Schoenbrod's 2005 book, Saving Our Environment from Washington: How Congress Grabs Power, Shirks Responsibility, and Shortchanges the People is an attack on the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and federal government environment protection. Another Cato book is Out of Bounds, Out of Control: Regulatory Enforcement at the EPA by James V. DeLong (2002).
In its 2009 edition of the Cato Handbook for Policymakers (chapter 44 - pdf), the Institute argues that the environment is best protected by consumers exercising their preferences rather than regulation.
Although environmental debates sound like they’re arguments about science and public health (with a smattering of economics tossed in), they’re really debates about preferences and whose preferences should be imposed on society... Should experts—acting on behalf of regulatory agencies—decide what sort of environmental quality people should or should not have a right to consume? In no other area of the economy do scientists have the power to rule in such a manner... Given the different circumstances of both communities and environmental media, it makes sense to allow those most directly affected by the pollution issue in question to decide for themselves how best to deal with it.
It also argues (chapter 39 - pdf):
Scholarly assessment of the three decades of experience with regulation and government oversight concludes that health and safety regulations have had no obvious effects on the aggregate trends in accidental deaths... government regulation reduces the incentives for firms to provide their own safety assurances through testing and branding.