Michael Livermore is right to suggest that environmentalists should be focused on Cass Sunstein’s first official day as regulatory czar for the Obama Administration. After months of delay over the Harvard professor’s eclectic and provocative writings, he will eventually take office if he can placate cattle ranchers concerned about his views on animal rights. Whatever their level of paranoia about Sunstein’s ability to grant animals standing to bring lawsuits, the likely character of his reign was more accurately predicted by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which applauded Sunstein’s devotion to cost-benefit analysis, the major weapon of Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II to smother health, safety, and environmental protections.
Livermore, an advocate of kinder, gentler cost-benefit analysis that he hopes will lead to regulatory controls more palatable to conservatives, offers a depressing list of priorities for Sunstein on his first day. They boil down to continuing the mission of George W. Bush’s regulatory czars: using number-crunching of “costs” and “benefits” (e.g., a life saved by regulation is worth anywhere from $1-10 million) as the transcendent tool in making decisions on climate change, public health protections, worker safety, and sustainability. I cannot help but remember many economists’ awesome failure to predict and avoid the global economic meltdown and wonder why their predictions in the health and safety arena should be even more essential these days.
Many progressives fear that, despite Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner’s claims that they are interested in “true” reform of a fatally corrupt banking system, the two men have essentially missed the opportunity of this generation to overhaul it—and the recent comebacks of the largest firms seem to underscore these fears. In a similar vein, we should be very disappointed if Sunstein does not deliver on the president’s promise of “change we can believe in.” To do that, he should: