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How costly is “clean”? An analysis of the benefits and costs of Superfund site remediations

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  • James T. Hamilton

    (Duke University)

  • W. Kip Viscusi

    (Harvard Law School)

Abstract

The cleanup of hazardous waste sites under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program is governed by a number of legislative and regulatory constraints. Congress passed legislation in 1986 directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue permanent remedies that embodied stringent cleanup standards. The agency has chosen to use conservative assumptions in risk assessments at hazardous waste sites, including a presumption that on-site risks for hypothetical future residents should be calculated in the site remediation process. This article offers the first comprehensive assessment of the cost-effectiveness of these Superfund cleanups. Our results reveal that many EPA Superfund remediations fail a partial benefit-cost test. For a sample of the 150 Superfund sites, we find that at the majority of sites the expected number of cancers averted by remediation is less than 0.1 cases per site and that the cost per cancer case averted is over $100 million. The analysis demonstrates the importance of explicitly calculating the trade-offs embodied in environmental cleanup decisions. © 1998 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

Suggested Citation

  • James T. Hamilton & W. Kip Viscusi, 1999. "How costly is “clean”? An analysis of the benefits and costs of Superfund site remediations," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(1), pages 2-27.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:18:y:1999:i:1:p:2-27
    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6688(199924)18:1<2::AID-PAM2>3.0.CO;2-2
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Wittman, Donald, 1989. "Why Democracies Produce Efficient Results," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1395-1424, December.
    2. Noll, Roger G & Krier, James E, 1990. "Some Implications of Cognitive Psychology for Risk Regulation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(2), pages 747-779, June.
    3. John A. Hird, 1993. "Environmental policy and equity: The case of superfund," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(2), pages 323-343.
    4. Gary S. Becker, 1983. "A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(3), pages 371-400.
    5. Shreekant Gupta & George Van Houtven & Maureen Cropper, 1996. "Paying for Permanence: An Economic Analysis of EPA's Cleanup Decisions at Superfund Sites," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(3), pages 563-582, Autumn.
    6. Peter A. Diamond & Jerry A. Hausman, 1994. "Contingent Valuation: Is Some Number Better than No Number?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 45-64, Fall.
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    Blog mentions

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    1. Relax: Gutting the EPA Won't Make Your Air Dirtier and Water More Polluted
      by Ronald Bailey in Hit & Run blog on 2017-03-21 23:35:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Sigman, Hilary, 2001. "The Pace of Progress at Superfund Sites: Policy Goals and Interest Group Influence," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 315-344, April.
    2. Schwartz, Amy Ellen & Ellen, Ingrid Gould & Voicu, Ioan & Schill, Michael H., 2006. "The external effects of place-based subsidized housing," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(6), pages 679-707, November.
    3. Wen, Zongguo & Chen, Jining, 2008. "A cost-benefit analysis for the economic growth in China," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 356-366, April.
    4. Sandra Alker & Adrian McDonald, 2003. "Incorporating sustainable development into redevelopment," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(3), pages 171-182.
    5. Robin R. Jenkins & Elizabeth Kopits & David Simpson, 2006. "Measuring the Social Benefits of EPA Land Cleanup and Reuse Programs," NCEE Working Paper Series 200603, National Center for Environmental Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revised Sep 2006.
    6. Edmundas Kazimieras Zavadskas & Jurgita Antucheviciene, 2006. "Development of an indicator model and ranking of sustainable revitalization alternatives of derelict property: a Lithuanian case study," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(5), pages 287-299.

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