Steinzor to Senate Subcommittee: What's the Cost of Preventing an Asthma Attack?

Erin Kesler

Oct. 21, 2015

This morning, CPR Member Scholar and University of Maryland School of Law professor Rena Steinzor testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste and Regulatory Oversight for a hearing focused on, "Oversight of Regulatory Impact Analysis for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regulations." 

In her testimony, Steinzor noted the limitations of "Regulatory Impact Analysis," or RIA, which agencies are mandated to conduct on all rules they finalize and measures the rules' "costs and benefits."  When measuring the costs and benefits of EPA rules geared toward protecting the public health, safety and the environment, Steinzor noted that RIA comes up short, asking the Subcommitee members,"What's the cost of preventing an asthma attack?"

However, given EPA's mandate to conduct cost-benefit analysis on all rules she said, "EPA’s work in this area is the gold standard for all other government agencies.  Its elaborate studies invariably conclude that benefits exceed costs.  In fact, in the case of the Clean Air Act rules reserved for especially irrational condemnation by regulated industries, benefits exceed costs by a margin of 30 to one.  Rather than focus on the marginal improvements that GAO has recommended, the Subcommittee should applaud EPA’s diligent, thorough, and creative efforts to carry out one of the most difficult elements of its mission to preserve environmental quality."

In assessing the tangible benefits of EPA rules, Steinzor's testimony points out that:

  • EPA regulation of the discharge of pollution into water bodies nearly doubled the number of waters meeting statutory water quality goals from around 30 to 40 percent in 1972 (when the modern Clean Water Act was first enacted) to around 60 to 70 percent in 2007,  
  • EPA regulations protecting wetlands reduced the annual average rate of acres of wetlands destroyed from 550,000 acres per year (during the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s) to 58,500 acres per year (during the period from 1986 to 1997), a nearly 90-percent reduction,  
  • Working together, the EPA and the state of California have reduced the number of Stage 1 Smog Alert days in Southern California from 121 days in 1977 to zero days since 1997,  
  • EPA regulations phasing out lead in gasoline helped reduce the average blood lead level in U.S. children aged 1 to 5 from 14.9 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) during the years 1976 to 1980 to 2.7 µg/dL during the years 1991 to 1994. Because of its harmful effect on children’s brain development and health, the Center for Disease Control considers blood lead levels of 10 µg/dL or greater to be dangerous to children. During the years 1976 to 1980, 88 percent of all U.S. children had blood lead levels in excess of this dangerous amount; during the years 1991 to 1994, only 4.4 percent of all U.S. children had blood lead levels in excess of 10 µg/dL.
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