EPA Could Make Costly Mistake With Proposed Air Quaility Standards To Be Issued By July 19

June 19, 1997

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to publish new air quality standards for ground level ozone and particulate matter by July 19. Enactment of these air pollution standards as proposed could be a costly mistake, according to an in-depth study of the science and economics of air quality standards released June 12 by the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University.

Kenneth W. Chilton, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Study of American Business
Office: (314) 935-5662
Email: chilton@csab.wustl.edu

Chilton, an expert on the economic impact of environmental regulation, has analyzed government programs designed to reduce smog, curb water pollution and reduce solid waste through recycling. He champions the reform of environmental programs to make them more cost-effective. Chilton's latest study on air pollution, co-authored with CSAB researcher Stephen Huebner, is titled: "EPA's Case for New Ozone and Particulate Standards: Would Americans Get Their Money's Worth?" CSAB is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that researches issues affecting American business.

The EPA justifies the cost of its proposed new standards for ozone (smog) and fine-particle levels by suggesting that the new regulations will deliver huge savings in health costs by preventing thousands of premature deaths and millions of less severe health effects. But, according to Chilton and Huebner, these conclusions cannot be inferred from available scientific evidence.

The EPA projects that proposed clean air standards will provide benefits in excess of $100 billion, but according to the just-released CSAB analysis, this astounding benefit calculation is based on some highly questionable EPA mortality assumptions for fine particles, and on an EPA formula that places a value of $4.8 million on each prolonged life, regardless of how long each life is prolonged.

CSAB's comprehensive review of the extensive science on ozone finds that the pollutant may cause physical reactions in some individuals, but in most cases, these health effects are mild, and in all cases, they are reversible. As a result, the added public health benefit expected from the proposed ozone standard is minuscule, said Chilton and Huebner.

Nonetheless, the Clean Air Act requires that EPA "protect public health with an adequate margin of safety" and ignore the costs of pursuing this impossible standard of perfection.

Chilton and Huebner recommend that Congress change the Clean Air Act's goal to "protect the public against unreasonable risk of significant health effects" and require that cost-benefit analysis be considered when setting air quality standards. This would ensure that Americans get their money's worth from the Clean Air Act.

Washington University in St. Louis

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