Cost-Risk Analysis: An Opening or a Wall? the House's Environmental Bill Represents an Opportunity for All Sides

Article excerpt

THE House of Representatives recently passed that part of the Contract With America relating to risk assessment and cost/benefit analyses for new regulations, with one-fourth of the Democrats voting for it.

Some have characterized the bill as an attempt to gut environmental and health regulations, but that view is mistaken. The bill should be seen as an opportunity to improve the way we legislate and regulate in the environmental and health arenas, as well as an attempt to find a bipartisan way of dealing with some contentious issues.

Even the environmental community should view this legislation as an opportunity to achieve more cost-effective programs that maximize our national investment in environmental protection.

Let's look at the facts. While the current command-and-control approach has succeeded in achieving environmental improvements, like removing lead from the air and curtailing sewage dumping in our waterways, additional gains are more and more marginal -- and accomplished at greater and greater costs.

In addition, command and control stifles innovation and voluntary action, whether by businesses or communities. Pollution prevention, though positive, is hard to mandate.

The Clinton administration has stated that the House bill will cause regulatory gridlock. But in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it only requires that agency to do what every other agency has to do under the National Environmental Policy Act, which is to balance the costs and benefits of proposed actions. (EPA was written out of NEPA.) Why shouldn't EPA do what the rest of the government has been doing for the last 25 years? Besides, the bill will not impact current environmental regulations, but only seeks to make new ones more rational.

Analysis vs. fearful reactions

Risk and cost/benefit analyses are essential tools for the public (and Congress) to understand environmental issues and how they can be addressed cost effectively. Too much environmental regulation has been driven by fear and inadequate knowledge.

We probably didn't need to ban the apple preservative alar, do away with Times Beach at a $100 million cost to taxpayers, overreact on radon, and spend $50 million on asbestos removal. …