IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

When is a life too costly to save? : evidence from U.S. environmental regulations

  • Van Houtven, George L.
  • Cropper, Maureen L.
  • DEC

Except for two relatively minor statutes, U.S. environmental laws do not permit the balancing of costs and benefits in setting environmental standards. The Clean Air Act, for example, prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from considering costs in setting ambient air quality standards. Similarly, the Clean Water Act does not allow consideration of benefits in setting effluent standards. When the EPA is allowed to balance benefits against costs, it has considerable discretion in defining"balancing."The authors ask two questions: Whether allowed to or not, has the EPA balanced costs and benefits in setting environmental standards? Where has the EPA drawn the line in deciding how much to spend to save a statistical life? Their answers are based on data about the costs and benefits of regulations involving three classes of pollutants: cancer-causing pesticides usedon food crops (1975-89); carcinogenic air pollutants (1975-90); and all uses of asbestos regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The following are their findings. The EPA behaved as though it were balancing costs and benefits in its regulation of pesticides under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and of asbestos under Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), the two so-called balancing statutes. The higher the cost of the ban, the less likely the EPA was to ban the use of these products. The greater the number of lives saved, the more likely the EPA was to ban their use. But the amount the EPA was (implicitly) willing to spend to save a life was high: $52 million to prevent cancer among pesticide applicators, and $49 million to avoid cancer through exposure to asbestos. The value the EPA attached to saving a life was higher for workers than for consumers. The value attached to avoiding a case of cancer through exposure to pesticide resides on food was less than $100,000, in contrast with the $52 million value of preventing cancer among pesticide applicators - perhaps because workers are exposed to higher levels of pollution than consumers. After 1987, when the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the EPA for considering costs in setting emissions standards for vinyl chloride, the EPA considered costs in setting emissions standards only after an acceptable level of risk was achieved. Ironically, before the vinyl chloride decision, the value per cancer case avoided was only $15 million. The amount the EPA was willing to spend to save a life was thus less under the Clean Air Act than under the balancing statutes. But after this decision, the EPA did not consider costs at all if the risk of cancer to the maximally exposed individual was above one in 10,000.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/1994/03/01/000009265_3961006064546/Rendered/PDF/multi_page.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1260.

as
in new window

Length:
Date of creation: 31 Mar 1994
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1260
Contact details of provider: Postal: 1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20433
Phone: (202) 477-1234
Web page: http://www.worldbank.org/
Email:


More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Cropper, Maureen L. & William N. Evans & Stephen J. Berard & Maria M. Ducla-Soares & Paul R. Portney, 1992. "The Determinants of Pesticide Regulation: A Statistical Analysis of EPA Decision Making," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(1), pages 175-97, February.
  2. Ann Fisher & Lauraine G. Chestnut & Daniel M. Violette, 1989. "The value of reducing risks of death: A note on new evidence," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(1), pages 88-100.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1260. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Roula I. Yazigi)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.