Changing the way we look at environmental regulations.

On Feb. 11, 1996, the chairman of the Federal Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management stated that the Commission will soon recommend that environmental regulations be analyzed under cost-effectiveness rather than cost/benefit analyses.

According to published reports, in his presentation to the American Assn. of the Advancement of Science, Gilbert Omenn stated that the Commission, established under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, endorses the use of cost-effectiveness analyses of environmental regulations (determining which policy option achieves an environmental goal at the lowest cost). This approach avoids the necessity of arbitrarily assigning a monetary value to ecological benefits, required under a cost-benefit approach.

The Commission will recommend in a report due out in March that Congress avoid drafting regulatory reform legislation that mandates "overly prescriptive language, on risk assessment, per review, comparative risk assessment, and cost/benefit analysis. Further, the commission is expected to conclude that environmental policy options should be broadened to include performance-based standards in addition to traditional command and control regulations.

In a move that could have significant reverberations in the regulatory community, the Commission is also expected to recommend that certain tumors developed by laboratory animals when exposed to particular chemicals not be considered relevant in risk assessments for humans.

Another government body, the President's Council on Sustainable Development, is recommending in a draft report that "the government should provide greater flexibility for achieving environmental goals, while considering costs and social factors." Established in 1993, the Council is comprised of representatives from industry, labor, environmental groups, and citizen groups.

The report, which is not yet available to the public, sets forth ten goals on a variety of topics, including health and environment. It makes 38 recommendations and contains 150 recommended implementing actions.

Shifting the tax structure to allow for increased use of pollution taxes and reviewing the current subsidy system are two of the major policy recommendations made in the report. The Council also advocates a performance-based regulatory structure that is flexible enough to allow industry to develop innovative new approaches without reducing the level of environmental protection.

Further, the Council endorses the concept of voluntary "product responsibility," whereby those responsible for a product with environmental effects accept responsibility through the duration of the product's life. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner, who is also a member of the Council, approves and endorses the Council's report.

In a March 5 speech, President Clinton emphasized the need for cooperative efforts among the White House, Congress, and local governments to solve environmental problems. Clinton was the keynote speaker at the National Assn. of Counties Legislative Conference, where Carol Browner also spoke.

Clinton referred to the Administration's ongoing government reinvention effort and noted that he was working to eliminate 16,000 pages of federal regulations. He said, "We are trying to find more innovative ways to work in partnership not only with local government but with the private sector."

Clinton also stated, "We have to disabuse our people of the notion that you have to grow the economy by weakening the environment and that we have to choose a good job over clean air, clean water, and a safe future."

During the conference, Browner addressed issues such as Superfund and a regulatory reform bill (H.R. 994) that would give small businesses greater powers to challenge agency action and would provide for administrative and congressional review of regulations.

Browner reiterated her opposition to the proposal, stating, "Unfortunately, in the proposal being voted on in the House, the principle of moderation is missing, and, instead, we have another bill that undermines public health and environmental protection."


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