Valuing the Lives of Our Senior Population

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Hotline, Summer 2003

by Suzanne Seppi, GASP Executive Director

On April 23, 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to Pittsburgh to listen to seniors’ comments about the relationship between their demographic group and the environment. The tour of “Listening Sessions” covered six cities, and a major theme in every city was the general dismay of seniors concerning the so-called “senior discount.” GASP was among the many giving testimony at both the Pittsburgh Listening Session and later in support of an Allegheny County Council Resolution in opposition to this policy. Following are comments by GASP before County Council in support of the Council Resolution on May 21, 2003. This resolution was sponsored by council members, Rich Fitzgerald and Brenda Frazier.

GASP supports the County Council resolution calling upon President George W. Bush and then Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, to value all people’s lives equally with respect to current and future policy and regulations concerning point and non-point source pollution.

After much criticism was voiced at six EPA-sponsored Senior Listening Sessions around the country, Administrator Whitman announced that the EPA would not use the analysis proposal of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that specifies approximately a 63% value on the lives of people over the age of 70 compared to those under age 70 when calculating the cost-benefit analysis of proposed regulations.

Not surprisingly, and appropriately, seniors were not pleased with this discount approach. Looked at in another way, because the oldest and youngest age groups represent populations that are more sensitive to environmental factors such as air quality, their ranks should perhaps be valued at an even higher level than others. The analytical schemes could go on and on. The traditional one is to value each life the same, without regard to such variables as age.

One result of the senior discount would have been that proposed environmental regulations would end up having a lower benefit vs. cost value, because a large segment of the population is discounted. In effect, it was a backdoor way to weaken environmental regulations. This policy could also be used to discount the benefits of of other protections, such as that used for government health plans or food labeling.

Unfortunately, even as the EPA backs away from this analysis direction, the senior discount analysis is still an OMB proposal, which in effect is an Administration proposal. It was used in the Clear Skies analysis and has not been withdrawn from the supporting documents for that important proposal. The EPA is not immune to the desires and policy of the Administration. Therefore, as GASP opposed this discount policy at the Pittsburgh EPA Listening Session, we also support the County Council’s resolution to add itself to the ranks of individuals, groups, cities and counties that send a message to the Administration that this is a bad policy idea leading to a decreased value on much needed environmental improvements.

Our knowledge about the dangers of fine particulate air pollution and its effect on health, including premature death, continues to grow. Currently there are 35 million people in this country who are 65 years of age or older, and that population is expected to double in the next 30 years. It only makes economic sense, to say nothing of the morality of the issue, to provide an environment where everyone, but especially sensitive populations such as seniors, will continue to be a healthy, productive part of our society.