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Coglianese’s research shapes national report on regulating high-hazard industries

October 04, 2017

Penn Law professor Cary Coglianese contributed extensively to a newly released report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine entitled “Designing Safety Regulations for High-Hazard Industries.”

The report was authored by the Committee for a Study of Performance-Based Safety Regulation, a project of the Academies’ Transportation Research Board. The Committee’s final report relies extensively on Coglianese’s research on regulatory design to offer advice about selecting appropriate ways of regulating industrial activities that pose catastrophic risk to the public.

“This report provides regulators with a clear framework for making more informed choices about how to design their regulations,” says Coglianese.

Coglianese, one of 14 experts from academia, public policy, and industry serving on the Committee, is the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as the director of the Penn Program on Regulation. He specializes in the study of regulation and regulatory processes, with an emphasis on the empirical evaluation of alternative regulatory strategies and the role of public participation, negotiation, and business-government relations in policy making.

The Committee developed the report over the past year, through an extended process that included a two-day dialogue at The Hague, Netherlands, to learn about regulation of the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry.

The report compared alternative strategies for regulating safety in high-hazard industries, such as pipeline transportation, chemical manufacturing, and offshore oil and gas development.

“While safety regulation cannot prevent all harmful incidents, regulators need to have confidence that the regulatory tools they choose are well suited to the particular circumstances,” the report states. “They must also be able to explain their choices to policy makers and the public.”

The report points out the ambiguities in common labels used to classify regulations as “prescriptive” or “performance-based.” To avoid the inconsistencies and confusion created by these labels, the report recommends instead distinguishing between “micro-” versus “macro-level” regulations, as well as between regulations that require “means” versus “ends.” The Committee adopted a two-by-two framework for classifying regulatory designs that Coglianese developed in his past research.

“Regulators, analysts, and researchers need clear concepts for regulatory designs,” the report states. “A systematic and commonly accepted regulatory design taxonomy, such as the one offered in this report, is needed to guide future research, analysis, and regulatory decision making.”

The report, which includes case studies of safety regulation in the pipeline and offshore oil and gas sectors, was conducted at the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It explains the particular challenges confronting regulators in the face of low-frequency but high-consequence — or catastrophic — risks, indicating that one way for regulators to evaluate their work is to identify, track, and analyze data on “incident precursor events” or near misses.

The Committee’s report can be downloaded here, and Professor Coglianese’s related research can be found here. An overview of the report can be found at The Regulatory Review.