Your life has worth -- but $1M less than before
WASHINGTON - It's not just the American dollar that's losing value. A government agency has decided that an American life isn't worth what it used to be.
The "value of a statistical life" is $6.9 million in today's dollars, the Environmental Protection Agency reckoned in May -- a drop of nearly $1 million from just five years ago.
The Associated Press discovered the change after a review of cost-benefit analyses during more than a dozen years.
Though it may seem like harmless bureaucracy, the devaluation has consequences.
Why it matters?
When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as restrictions on pollution.
Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.
Some environmentalists accuse the Bush administration of changing the value to avoid tougher rules -- a charge the EPA denies.
Motives in question
"It appears that they're cooking the books in regards to the value of life," said S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. "Those decisions are literally a matter of life and death."
Agency officials say they just follow science.
The EPA figure is based on what people are willing to pay to avoid certain risks, and on how much extra employers pay their workers to take on additional risks.