It’s probably an oxymoron to say “cost-effective government action, " but they should at least TRY.

Good article on value of benefit-cost analysis by Robert Stavins, Harvard

Those who claim TSCA is a failure often point to its insurmountable hurdle of requiring "unreasonable" risk findings. I.e., EPA shouldn't have the burden of showing their regulatory action is the most cost-effective to reduce risks.

I agree with Stavins that cost-benefit analysis can never be a hard and fast quantitative effort - there are way too many assumptions and subjective judgments. But I do believe it helps clarify where the assumptions are and aids dialog toward stimulating innovative, better solutions.

The "Kids Safe Chemicals Act" proponents who think there are "safe" chemicals out there with no risks are dreaming. Everything has some risk. The issue is, can we afford to control those risks to an acceptable level without throwing away desirable benefits? In some cases it's easy because safer alternatives exist, in others it's not so easy a call.

If a product exists it's because someone thinks there is value to it. There are automatic stakeholders who believe there are benefits - the producer, the seller, the customers. Government should be required to answer the question whether there is a way to preserve those benefits while at the same time reducing risks. It could be simply education - if customers are told about a risk they didn't know about before, they may decide the benefits aren't worth it. Or they may be willing to pay a little more for the producer to reduce the risks.

Only where we cannot come up with affordable ways to reasonably assure management of risks should we turn to banning specific uses. Banning lead paint in toddler toys that will be chewed on, no matter what a mom does, makes sense. Although, arguably, letting moms know the toy has lead paint would stop them from buying. But maybe they can't read.

It still seems reasonable to me to require EPA to address these questions:
Do alternatives exist? What are the relative risks of those alternatives? If there are safer ways to produce and/or use a product will anyone pay to do it? If they do pay and pass on the cost to the consumer will anyone be able to buy the product? What do people lose if a product is no longer available? Jobs? Time (convenience)? Safety? Durability/reliability?

I'm not arguing for endless analysis and arguments over numbers. But the EPA ought to try to address significant issues with stakeholders and give a pretty good reason for doing something that can have major economic impact.

I'd also like to see more of the kind of retrospective analysis Stavins refers to in principle #6. We need to learn from past decisions.

Life Cycle Thinking: We need to try to get at the full spectrum of impacts of a TSCA regulation. How do we try to make the best decisions we can if we ignore economic impact?


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