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Misunderstanding Models in Environmental and Public Health Regulation

65 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2010 Last revised: 30 Nov 2010

Wendy E. Wagner

University of Texas at Austin – School of Law; University of Texas at Austin – Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law & Business

Elizabeth C. Fisher

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Pasky Pascual

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Date Written: April 3, 2010

Abstract

Computational models are fundamental to environmental regulation, yet their capabilities tend to be misunderstood by policymakers. Rather than rely on models to illuminate dynamic and uncertain relationships in natural settings, policymakers too often use models as “answer machines.” This fundamental misperception that models can generate decisive facts leads to a perverse negative feedback loop that begins with policymaking itself and radiates into the science of modeling and into regulatory deliberations where participants can exploit the misunderstanding in strategic ways. This paper documents the pervasive misperception of models as truth machines in U.S. regulation and the multi-layered problems that result from this misunderstanding. The paper concludes with a series of proposals for making better use of models in environmental policy analysis.

Keywords: model, environmental law, science, EPA

JEL Classification: K32, K23

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Wendy E. and Fisher, Elizabeth C. and Pascual, Pasky, Misunderstanding Models in Environmental and Public Health Regulation (April 3, 2010). NYU Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 18, 2010; Energy Center Research Paper No. 11-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1711766

Wendy E. Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin – School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

University of Texas at Austin – Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law & Business ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Elizabeth C. Fisher

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom
01865 276749 (Phone)

Pasky Pascual

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ( email )

Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
United States

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