Rethinking Health-Based Environmental Standards

74 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013 Last revised: 16 Jan 2014

See all articles by Michael A. Livermore

Michael A. Livermore

University of Virginia School of Law

Richard L. Revesz

New York University School of Law

Date Written: January 13, 2014


Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to determine the stringency of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), arguably the most important federal environmental program, without considering the costs of achieving these standards. Instead, it must rely exclusively on health-related criteria. This Article argues that health-based standards, which are one of the principal approaches to setting the stringency of environmental requirements in the United States, exhibit two serious pathologies: the stopping point problem and the inadequacy paradox. The stopping point problem arises because there is no coherent, defensible way for EPA to set the permissible level of pollution based on health considerations alone. Moreover, contrary to the commonly accepted view, the NAAQS have generally been set at levels that are less stringent than those that would result from the application of cost-benefit analysis, giving rise to the inadequacy paradox. We urge a reinterpretation of the Supreme Court’s important decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations that would solve the inadequacy paradox and explain how non-welfarist considerations, although they do not avoid the stopping point problem, could justify health-based trumps.

Keywords: Law and Economics, Regulated Industries and Administrative Law, Environmental, Health and Safety Law, Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics, Government Policy

JEL Classification: K00, K23, K32, Q00, Q30, Q38

Suggested Citation

Livermore, Michael A. and Revesz, Richard L., Rethinking Health-Based Environmental Standards (January 13, 2014). New York University Law Review, Vol. 89, 2014 Forthcoming, Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2013-07, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-58, NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 13-30, Available at SSRN: or

Michael A. Livermore

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

Richard L. Revesz (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-998-6185 (Phone)
212-995-4590 (Fax)

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