Web Date: August 15, 2011
Regulating Beyond Risk
Sustainability should become the guiding principle for EPA’s policy and regulatory decisions, the National Research Council says in a report released on Aug. 2. This means, the report says, that EPA should go beyond assessing and managing risks from pollution to preventing harm from it.
The report points out that, since the 1980s, the agency has taken primarily a risk-based approach to environmental protection. While risk assessment and management remain important, they are inadequate to address complex problems such as depletion of finite natural resources and climate change, it says.
To move toward sustainability, EPA also needs to focus on preventing harm to health or the environment. This involves taking into account the three aspects of sustainability, which are environmental, social, and economic impacts, the report says.
For some of its major decisions, EPA should conduct intensive analysis of these three types of consequences of its policy options, the report recommends. To do this, the agency should use a variety of tools, including cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and life-cycle assessment, which follows a product’s impacts from its creation through use to recycling or disposal.
“The adoption of this framework, implemented in stages, will lead to a growing body of experiences and successes with sustainability,” says Bernard Goldstein, who chaired the NRC committee that prepared the report. “The result should be both a cleaner environment and a stronger economy,” adds Goldstein, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
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