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What's an older person's life worth?

EPA saying it's less in drafting new rules

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is coming to Pittsburgh next week and could get an earful on its plan to place a lesser value on the lives of senior citizens when calculating the benefits of environmental regulations.

Dubbed the "Senior Death Discount" by environmental groups, the Bush administration has proposed reducing the value of a senior citizen's life to 63 percent or less of the $6.1 million value per individual it uses when doing required cost-benefit analysis for environmental programs.

"I resent it," said Jo Ann Evansgardner, 77, of Hazelwood. "It's a very slippery slope. How can they decide at what age to discount the value of a life? And what's to stop them from then reducing the value of a disabled person, whose quality of life might not be the same as someone else, or that of a sick baby or the chronically ill?"

Industries and power plants could benefit from the proposed change in the value of life. Regulators must weigh benefits against costs for regulations expected to have economic effects greater than $100 million, so lower life values could have the effect of limiting the reach of anti-pollution rules.

Evansgardner plans to register before tomorrow's deadline to speak at the EPA meeting. It will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., April 23, at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association Pennsylvania Room, 4215 Fifth Ave., Oakland.

The EPA is holding the "listening sessions" in Pittsburgh and five other cities across the country to gather information and views about environmental hazards that affect the health of the elderly. The information also will be used to aid in development of a National Agenda on the Environment and Aging. The agenda will build on EPA's ongoing aging research, identify research gaps in environmental health and develop strategies to prepare for a rapidly aging population.

The first meeting in Tampa attracted 50 seniors.

"By opening up this process and encouraging this type of active participation we can expect to gain a more complete understanding of the environmental health issues of most concern and the most effective ways to address those issues," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who has canceled her previously scheduled attendance at the Pittsburgh meeting and one next month in Baltimore. "I know that this listening session will lend valuable insight and direction to our efforts."

There are 35 million people in the United States 65 years of age and older, and that number is expected to double over the next 30 years.

Among older Americans there is an increasing number who are at risk of chronic diseases and disabling conditions that may be caused or exacerbated by environmental conditions, including lead contamination, indoor and outdoor air pollution, microorganisms in water and pesticides.

Heart disease, cancer and stroke have been the leading causes of death for persons 65 years and older, and each of those diseases is worsened by air pollution, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But the Bush administration's efforts to refine the way the EPA calculates the costs and benefits of major anti-pollution regulations could limit the reach of air pollution regulations.

When performing a cost-benefit analysis of a proposal to limit snowmobile pollution in the national parks, the administration reduced the value of a life to $3.7 million per person and $2.3 million for anyone over age 70. So instead of having a benefit of $77 billion by 2030, the health benefits of the proposal were recalculated to $8.8 billion and deemed not worth implementing.

Under the Bush administration's Clear Skies plan for controlling air pollution from power plants, the value of lives of some people who will benefit from cleaner air in the northeastern United States is calculated as low as $96,000, less than 2 percent of the measure that has been used since George H.W. Bush was president.

To register to speak at the EPA listening session, call 1-866-372-2433. Individuals can also leave spoken comments using this number.

Those who would like to submit written comments should send them to: EPA's Aging Initiative, Room 2512 Ariel Rios North, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20460. The Web site for registering to attend or speak is www.epa.gov/aging/listening/index.htm.


Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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