President Obama continues to surprise some of his progressive backers. This time, it was his selection of Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB. The Center for Progressive Reform called Sunstein’s views “conservative” and similar to those of the Bush administration.
How did the appointment of a known progressive annoy the progressives? Sunstein’s sin is the support of the use of cost-benefit analysis in regulatory decision-making. Sunstein also rejects the precautionary principle.
I truly hope that this is a Nixon in China moment for cost-benefit analysis. Given that Obama has already appointed an aggressive – and progressive – regulatory team, given that he has already signaled that EPA will reverse the Bush administration’s rejection of California’s waiver request, given that he has also signaled that EPA will probably move quickly to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, perhaps he will have earned sufficient credibility with most progressives – if not the Center for Progressive Reform – to move to make regulation more efficient and to make better use of science in regulation. This would include adoption of cost-benefit analysis as a cornerstone of analysis.
As long as Republicans push for cost-benefit analysis, it is easy to say it’s a tool of the devil. Professor Sunstein himself referred to environmentalists’ Manichaean view of the world. If President Obama supports cost-benefit analysis, will the same criticism stick? Let’s hope not. Perhaps this administration can indeed bring industry and environmentalists together, satisfying environmentalists with strong regulation and industry with the assurance that such regulations will be soundly grounded in science, including careful risk analysis and cost benefit analysis.