USP 515 Session 13 Notes

November 16th and 18th
Session Thirteen:  Addressing Environmental Injustices/Cost Benefit Analysis/Precautionary Principle

ASSIGNED READING FOR SESSION THIRTEEN (click on session 13 on left to access reading) 


  1. Pricing the Priceless (this is a legal article so you may have to review it several times

    • Cost-benefit analysis is a deeply flawed method that repeatedly leads to biased and misleading results
      • offers no clear advantages in making regulatory policy decisions and often produces inferior results, in terms of both environmental protection and overall social welfare, compared to other approaches
    • Proponents of cost-benefit analysis make two basic arguments in its favor.
      • First, use of cost-benefit analysis ostensibly leads to more “efficient” allocation of society’s resources by better identifying which potential regulatory actions are worth undertaking and in what fashion
      • Second, the use of discounting systematically and improperly downgrades the importance of environmental regulation.
      • Third, cost-benefit analysis ignores the question of who suffers as a result of environmental problems and, therefore, threatens to reinforce existing patterns of economic and social inequality.
      • Finally, cost-benefit analysis fails to produce the greater objectivity and transparency promised by its proponents
    • While economists have spent three decades wrangling about how much a human life, or a bald eagle, or a beautiful stretch of river, is worth in dollars, ecologists, engineers, and other specialists have gone about the business of saving lives and eagles and rivers, without waiting for formal, quantitative analysis proving that saving these things is worthwhile.
  2. The Precautionary Principle Puts Value First, Nancy Meyer
    • Professor definition: if the producer is not able to prove that no one will be harmed occurs in the process of their activity, then they may not proceed.
    • potential harm, scientific uncertainty, and precautionary action
    • The Wingspread Statement went on to define three additional components of the principle’s application: In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed, and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action