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Current & Recent Research at Penn Law

File: [View Document]
Author: Finkel, Adam Menasha
Citation: "Solution-Focused Risk Assessment": A Proposal for the Fusion of Environmental Analysis and Action." Human and Ecological Risk Assessment,17:754-787 (2011). Also five invited commentaries following the article (J. Clarence Davies, Bernard Goldstein, Bruce Hope, Gilbert Omenn, and Dennis Paustenbach), pp. 788-812.
Date Published: 2011
Date Posted: 01/01/2013
Subjects: Law and the Environment
Law and Regulatory Systems
Keywords: Regulated Industries
Environmental Law
For 30 years, more attention and resources have been expended on dissecting
problems (risk assessment) than on evaluating actual solutions that reduce risks. The
basic dogma holds that risk assessment must precede risk management. But there is
an opposite and perhaps better way: the opening question should not be “How bad
is the problem?” but “How good are the solutions we might apply to the problem?”
Rethinking risk assessment in this context offers three classes of benefits over the
status quo. First, it can help break the endless cycle of analysis: when the goal is to
know enough to decide, rather than to know everything, natural stopping points
emerge. Second, it can lead to more decisions that actually achieve risk reduction,
rather than pronouncements about how much risk reduction would be optimal.
Third, it can highlight ways to resolve multiple risks simultaneously, avoid needless
and tragic risk-risk tradeoffs, and involve affected stakeholders in debating what
should be done. Arguably, the longer the disembodied analysis of risk information
is allowed to proceed, the more likely it is that the “problem” will be defined in a
way that blunts the free-wheeling discussion of solutions, to the detriment of human
health, the environment, and the economy.