I’d have otherwise thought that knuckling under to White House pressure to edit the technical findings of its own top scientists would otherwise make for a full day’s work over at the EPA. Ever the diligent body of public servants though, their drive to serve is truly something to behold.
When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter restrictions on pollution.
Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.
I get it that this manner of calculation is part and parcel of the sausage-making that is the development and implementation of policy and regulation. And I get, in principle, that a thorough accounting of estimated economic impact is a critical part of the process. There’s the rub.
We continue to treat our resource base as an ATM machine tied to an account whose balance is always assumed to be well in the black. We have a long way to go in seeing to it that cost benefit analysis adequately captures the value of resources and systems.
We look at a forest and count board feet at some projected market value. What’s the replacement cost on the carbon dioxide-to-oxygen exchange?
That’s the sort of economic challenge that I’d much rather the folks at EPA sink their teeth into.