How Much Are Human Lives and Health Worth

How Much Are Human Lives and Health Worth - 21 MARCH 2003...

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Unformatted text preview: 21 MARCH 2003 VOL 299 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 1836 The Bush Administrations Clear Skies plan for cutting the emission of air pollutants from power plants looks like a great deal for public health. Cleaning up the air will, by 2020, prevent some 12,000 premature deaths each year and thousands of cases of bronchi- tis. Economists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say the value of these and other health benefits totals $93 billion14 times the $6.5 billion cost of reducing emissions. But the agency adds a caveat: An alternative analysis states that the benefits add up to just $11 billion, for a much slimmer benefit-to-cost ratio of 2:1 barely worth the effort, some might say. The lower figure comes compliments of White House budget officials, who urged EPA to plug different numbers into its for- mulas for calculating benefitsfor example, by assuming that old peoples lives are worth less than those of younger folks. It is part of a push from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to get agencies across government to change the way they do cost-benefit analyses for major rules. The goal is both quality and unifor- mity: OMB has a strong interest in cross- agency comparisons, says OIRA director John Graham, who says they can help allo- cate scarce resources. Activists and some government econo- mists, however, assert that these techniques are an excuse for inaction, as the new analyses invariably eat away at the benefit side of the equation. Although the new math is too recent to have swayed a regulatory decision, Wesley Warren, a former OMB official now at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C., predicts it soon will: Once [OIRA has] got the framework in place, they can consistently justify a weaker level of protection. Although economists generally support the call for more rigorous cost-benefit analyses, some question whether OIRAs techniques are ready for prime time. Especially controversial is Grahams proposal that agencies incorpo- rate into environmental regulations some measures used in health care. People are both apprehensive and expectant about the effects on regulation, says environmental economist Alan Krupnick of Resources for the Future (RFF), a think tank in Washington, D.C. Graham came to Washington 2 years ago hoping to bring more rigor to the setting of regulatory priorities ( Science , 14 December 2001, p. 2277). A former Harvard professor, Graham has long championed the idea that the billions of dollars spent on cutting envi- ronmental pollution might actually improve health more if they funded less costly health and safety interventions, such as preventing accidents. But the inconsistency in how vari- ous agencies add up costs and benefits posed an obstacle. On 3 February, in draft guide- lines updating OMBs guidance on risk analy- sis, Graham laid out new procedures that...
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How Much Are Human Lives and Health Worth - 21 MARCH 2003...

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