University of Virginia law professor Michael Livermore and Richard Revesz ’79, a professor of law and dean emeritus at New York University, co-authored Reviving Rationality: Saving Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Sake of the Environment and Our Health (Oxford University Press). The book asserts rigorous cost-benefit analysis is essential in light of the Trump’s administration’s environmental policies, which “destabilized the decades-long bipartisan consensus that federal agencies must base their decisions on evidence, expertise, and analysis.”

Revesz, a native Argentinian who arrived in the United States a week before starting at Princeton, is an expert in environmental and regulatory law and policy. He is also the director of NYU’s Institute for Policy Integrity, a think tank that promotes environmental policies.

Who is the book geared toward?

The book is aimed at policy-making audiences. We wrote it because the Trump administration mangled the analytical techniques used to justify regulations, so it’s imperative that the system be put back together, and we wanted to provide a blueprint for how to do that.

Why is cost-benefit analysis so important for health and the environment?

Stripped of the lingo, it’s just about evaluating the consequences of government action, and government action should ideally do more good than harm; it’s required to do that, in order to be properly justified. And cost-benefit analysis is just the way of evaluating the consequences of regulation. 

The Trump administration justified deregulatory measures that exposed Americans to very large threats to their health through analysis that purported to show that deregulatory measures were actually good for the American people when, in fact, proper analysis would show that the deregulatory measures were very bad.

What’s an example?

Based on bad analysis, the administration significantly rolled back the greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks. They questioned the underpinnings of the regulation of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants; those regulations are preventing tens of thousands of deaths. They rescinded the regulation that limits the greenhouse gas emissions of existing power plants. 

Literally, they’ve taken dozens of environmental measures that are unsupportable, and yet they have these really pernicious consequences on the health and the safety of the American people. 

On cost-benefit analysis, what changes do you think the Biden administration can achieve?

My prediction is it will be an administration that pays attention to science and economics, that doesn’t mangle techniques to please its favored constituencies. My expectation is that it will return to an era of science and reason.

Interview conducted and condensed by Tom Kertscher