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EXPERT AVAILABLE: New EPA, DoT Regulations More Accurately Value Future Human Life, MU Expert Says

April 11, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— In recent months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DoT) have changed the way they place value on future human life during cost-benefit analyses (CBA) by taking into account people’s increasing willingness to pay more to protect their health. Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, applauds the change.

Trachtenberg believes this new form of analysis will more accurately place value on future human life, which should allow for more potentially lifesaving regulations to be enacted. He says that previous CBA procedures systematically undervalued the benefits of regulation, causing widespread under-regulation of environmental harms and other health hazards.

“In the past, federal agencies have consistently undervalued the benefit of saving human lives in the future by failing to account for ‘wealth inflation’, which is sometimes called ‘real income growth,’” Trachtenberg said. “This is the phenomenon by which residents of wealthy countries tend to get richer over time. By taking Americans’ rising standard of living into account, the EPA and DoT are now placing a more accurate value on future human life.”

Trachtenberg says that before enacting major regulations, federal agencies, such as the EPA, are required by law to produce a regulatory impact analysis listing the costs and benefits of proposed rules. He says the valuation agencies give to human lives is important in its own right, but it is all the more important because too often this valuation is the only basis for estimating the overall benefits of a new regulation. Trachtenberg says that agencies regularly ignore certain kinds of non-economic benefits. He says that many economic benefits are ignored, with agencies calculating only the value of saved lives – but not, for example, always including the value of preventing non-fatal illnesses or injuries.

“A recent meat labeling rule issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a good example,” Trachtenberg said. “The point of the rule is to give meat eaters more information about the food they consume, allowing them to make healthier choices. As one might expect, the anticipated benefits come in the form of better health for American carnivores. But the agency excluded the benefits of preventing non-fatal cancers, which would have made the regulation even more likely to be enacted.”

Trachtenberg has published articles in the UCLA Law Review and the Oregon Law Review on this subject.

Ben Trachtenberg is an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, where he teaches evidence, criminal procedure, and professional responsibility. He previously taught criminal law and environmental law at Brooklyn Law School.

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