Everything Old is New Again

Get the lead out: Have we already forgotten this lesson?

[R]egardless, the analysis has been done; lead remediation is still a screamingly good deal. Lead remains one of the most common and harmful pollutants in the country; it’s often present in old paint and settles into soil, particularly in urban areas. One comprehensive study concluded that “each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221.” And that study focused on current, laborious methods of lead remediation. As it happens, scientists have developed a new, cheaper method — mixing fish bones into soil (!) — to absorb lead and render it nontoxic. Pretty cool stuff. Imagine what more research and funding could do.

Instead, federal funding for lead-poisoning prevention programs has been brutally slashed

I’m hoping the anti-spending reflex can be excised from our politics and replaced by the recognition that investment is a good idea. When the return on the spending exceeds the spending, it is a wise thing to do.

The elimination of lead from gasoline is a paradigmatic triumph of American environmentalism. A danger to health was discovered by scientists. Public-health advocates and greens pushed and pushed for decades, often futilely, to get the government to take action. When EPA finally cranked up efforts to do something about it, the agency was viciously attacked. Industry shills said it was an agenda to control Americans’ lives, driven by scientists who wanted research money and a cabal of extreme environmentalists. They said there were no viable alternatives to lead and the regulations would raise gas prices and destroy the economy. They paid their own scientists to produce counter-evidence. They flooded politicians with money.

Gosh, sound familiar? The EPA prevailed, but these tactics no doubt delayed the result and increased the damage done.

One thought on “Everything Old is New Again

  1. EPA actions can have either type 1 or type 2 errors. A regulation may have benefits greater than costs. That’s the case here. But a regulation can have costs greater than benefits. Make it easier to prohibit things and you’re going to get more of the second. Make it harder to prohibit things and you’re going to get more of the first. It would be nice if there were some magic way of only getting regulations that make things better. Alas, there isn’t and never will be.

    Everyone recognizes that investment is a good idea. The problem is knowing what really is investment. It’s the problem we have with the Department of Defense or Homeland Security. DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT EVERY PENNY WE SPEND IS ESSENTIAL TO NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENSE AGAINST TERROR!

    No, it’s not.

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