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Ways of improving the management of environmental risks

journal contribution
posted on 1986-12-01, 00:00 authored by Lester B Lave

From the public's discovery of environmental quality in the late 1960s to the present, there has been increasing recognition that a more systematic approach is required to manage risks and to achieve the gains at low cost. Such a systematic approach must begin with risk identification, then go on to risk assessment, consideration of management options, a decision analysis of the options, and an examination of strategies for reducing loss. One of the most difficult aspects of environmental risk management is setting goals. There is a tendency to engage in rhetoric about zero risks and a pristine environment. However, moving toward more realistic goals requires consideration of what is an acceptable risk level. This level cannot be defined without knowing the benefits that come with the risk and the costs of reducing the risk. More generally, the criteria for selecting a risk management strategy include the residual level of risk, efficiency in reducing risk, equity, administrative simplicity, and public acceptability. A number of frameworks are currently used by U.S. regulatory agencies to manage risk: no-risk, risk-risk, technology-based standards, risk-benefit, cost-effectiveness, regulatory budget, and benefit-cost analysis. In specifying that an agency must use one of these frameworks, the U.S. Congress is implicitly specifying the goals for risk reduction. It appears to be easier for the U.S. Congress to specify a framework than a goal. Some of the nonregulatory means of managing risk include the market, and legal mechanisms. These risk management institutions have been effective and are a necessary part of any risk management program.




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