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A risky business, writing regulations.

A bill requiring federal agencies to conduct cost-benefit and risk analyses of both new and existing health, safety, and environmental regulations passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin last week. The legislation covers everything from drinking water standards to wildlife protection.

The Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis Act, part of the Republican's Contract with America, would force regulators to quantify in great detail how rules would increase or decrease risks to humans and the environment (SN: 2/11/95, p.87). Regulators would have to use "scientifically objective and unbiased" assessments to demonstrate that the benefits of rules would outweigh their costs, the bill states.

The risk assessments would have to include available laboratory and epidemiological data on the regulated activity or toxin. When describing the risk, regulators would have to provide examples of more serious, less serious, and equivalent risks familiar to the public.

In the case of particularly expensive regulations, independent panels would evaluate the agencies' assessments; they would also review annually the agencies' cost and risk assessment programs. The panels could include members of industries covered by the regulations under review.

Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Science Committee, says the bill would relieve the country of unnecessary regulations. But opponents, including members of the administration, say the legislation could override existing laws that protect human and environmental health. What's more, they claim, the many requirements of the bill would prove expensive to government and industry and would be impossible to implement.

Regulators can't determine all the costs of polluted water, for example, or the real risks of some chemicals to people of various health and ages, critics assert.
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Title Annotation:Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis Act would reform risk assessment in government regulation
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 11, 1995
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