The state of Texas, along with various other states and municipalities in the nation, has begun a comparative risk project to identify and prioritize the hazards posed to the state's environment, economy and public health. The purpose of the State of Texas Environmental Priorities Project (STEPP) is to initiate this process in order to help the state better allocate its limited resources to address the state's environmental and public health problems. Input is being sought from industry groups, environmental organizations, municipal governments, the scientific community and the general public.
The impetus for this effort by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) was the Environmental Protection Agency's Comparative Risk Project conducted for Region VI.(1) According to a 1990 EPA report, less than 10 percent of the federal environmental budget is spent on high-risk environmental problems, such as pesticides, indoor air pollution and contaminated drinking water.(2) STEPP's purpose is to ensure that the state's resources and federal funds are utilized to address the greatest risks for all Texans.
The STEPP program has two parts: risk assessment and risk management. The first phase will identify the hazards and analyze the issues of most concern to Texas residents through the project's eight advisory committees, focus groups and meetings throughout the state. The second phase, risk management, will attempt to develop solutions to reduce the risks identified as priorities by factoring in elements such as political will, legal constraints and economic cost.(3)
Congress, municipal and state government officials and industry groups have endorsed this type of approach, saying it is a sound method that provides a scientific foundation from which fiscally responsible decisions can be made to reduce environmental and public health risks. On the other hand, the risk assessment methodology has its critics.(4)
The TNRCC's STEPP program seeks to balance the concern for quantifiable scientific data with the consideration of public values, economic and political interests and the capacities of regulatory agencies. Furthermore, just as the EPA's regional comparative risk analysis led to this state study, it is anticipated that STEPP will lead to local studies which will provide cities, counties and local plan-ning agencies more tools to make decisions at the local level. For example, STEPP is supporting, through technical assistance, the City of Houston's project called "Houston Environmental Foresight." The ultimate success of these initiatives will be reflected in the measures taken to truly safeguard the health, environment and quality of life of all Texans for future generations.
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|RISK-BASED PLANNING TERMINOLOGY|
Comparative Risk Analysis: An aspect of risk-based planning which attempts to compare a wide range of environmental problems, across different media (e.g., air, land and water), by using information about risks to human health, the environment and human welfare or quality of life.
Risk Assessment: A formalized, structured process used to estimate the magnitude, like-lihood and uncertainty of environmentally induced health effects. Using the best available science, this process attempts to answer questions related to hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment and risk characterization.
Risk Management: In this process, the results of risk assessment are used to aid policy makers in deciding whether the risks are unacceptable. Besides quantitative risk estimates, economic, social, legal and political factors are taken into account to determine the decisions to be taken to protect the public health.
Cost-Benefit Analysis: A mathematical technique, developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s, which compares the costs and the benefits of a project to determine its feasibility.
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