Despite receiving little scientific or public-health support from independent researchers, the Environmental Protection Agency went ahead and made its new, lower limits on ozone and particulate emissions final in July. (See "Polluted Science," August/September.) Unless Congress delays the new rules or a court ruling overturns them, hundreds of regions will soon labor to meet the new standards.
The EPA claims the new rules will save 15,000 lives each year at a cost of only $8.5 billion. It's not likely that 15,000 people are dying from current levels of ozone or particulates, but it's interesting to take the EPA's claim at face value. Compared with the agency's past performance, these new rules would be an amazing bargain–so amazing that it's hard to believe. The new particulate and ozone regulations would have to be 13 times as cost-effective as the EPA's other rules. Harvard University risk analyst Tammy Tengs has estimated the cost of "life-years saved" from health and safety regulations handed down by various federal agencies and has found that EPA regulators are the most expensive cops on the block. Teng's figures cast considerable doubt on the agency's lowball estimates. If the new particulate and ozone rules instead cost as much as the typical EPA edict, the annual cost of enhanced ozone and particulate regulations alone would be $114 billion–about $10 billion more than the federal government will spend on Medicaid this fiscal year–rather than the $8.5 billion Administrator Carol Browner claims.