The Statutory Basis of Risk Assessment
American society has become increasingly concerned with the environmental, health, and safety risks posed by technology. This concern has led to two developments. One is the passage of numerous federal statutes regulating risk. The other is the development of increasingly sophisticated techniques for the assessment of risk. In principle, these two developments should complement each other: risk assessment techniques should provide a structured, systematic framework for assessing risk as required by statute. In practice, a review of some 33 federal environmental, health, and safety statutes indicates that legal requirements are too vague and in-consistent to lend themselves easily to the application of formal risk assessment techniques.
These deficiencies will not be easily solved. It is sometimes proposed that regulatory statutes be amended to provide clearer direction for risk assessment. However, such direction is politically unrealistic, analytically complex, and difficult to implement. It is also been proposed that Congress address inconsistencies in regulatory statutes by imposing a single unifying framework for risk assessment that all agencies would use. However, it is not at all obvious that imposition of a single framework for risk assessments would accommodate often inconsistent public risk preferences better than the haphazard, inconsistent pattern of requirements now in place.
However, two intermediate reforms could be useful. First, in amending or enacting environmental, health, and safety statutes, the drafters should review a checklist of risk assessment elements to insure that any vagueness or ambiguity is an intentional act of delegation. Second, instead of attempting to develop a single comprehensive framework for risk assessment, the appropriate Congressional committees could explore the possibility of imposing several such frameworks, each applying to a broad category of hazards.
KeywordsRisk Measure Safety Risk Administrative Agency Federal Food Pressure Relief Valve
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