Green Buckeye RN

Greenwire: EPA Plans To Revisit Touchy Topic — the Value of Saved Lives
January 19, 2011, 11:12 am
Filed under: News

Published: January 18, 2011

Government economists think they have a pretty good idea, but they are thinking about a rebranding campaign to mend ties with the public, which has often bristled at the idea that bureaucrats might be putting a price on human lives.

During a meeting this week in Washington, D.C., officials from U.S. EPA will meet with their economics advisers to discuss a planned makeover (pdf) for the process. At issue is the “value of a statistical life,” or VSL, an accounting technique used across the government to weigh the benefits of life-saving regulations.

Different agencies use different estimates. U.S. EPA puts it at $8 million in today’s dollars, while the Department of Transportation bumped up its standard figure to $6 million in 2009. Other agencies do not have formal rules, but in the past, the Food and Drug Administration has used estimates of both $5 million and $6.5 million while running the numbers on its regulations.

It might sound dry and bureaucratic, but these number-crunching operations can have a major impact on public policy. Whether officials are looking at limits on air pollution, mine safety rules or stricter food inspections, the number that is chosen can influence whether an agency decides that the deaths avoided are worth the cost to businesses, consumers or taxpayers.

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