Hopkins starts center to weigh costs, benefits of government regulation Risk science institute to be underwritten by corporate grant


Jumping into the debate on regulatory reform, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health yesterday launched an institute on risk intended to ensure that government rules protect people from real hazards without unduly burdening businesses.

Hopkins officials unveiled their Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute at a news briefing in Baltimore, saying that government regulators too often have ignored scientists' advice.

The institute is to be underwritten by a $1.85 million grant from CSX Corp., the East Coast rail and freight company that has historic ties to Baltimore.

"Risk assessment has gone from being perhaps the domain of a few scientists to being the very heart of the whole regulatory reform approach being debated in Washington," said Thomas A. Burke, co-director of the new institute and an associate professor in health policy and management.

Risk assessment involves identifying potential hazards, estimating the public's exposure to them, and determining the risk of harm to individuals or groups of people. The institute will offer graduate degrees in the field.

One of the institute's first steps will be to organize a series of seminars on risk assessment for Washington policy-makers, who are embroiled in a political tug-of-war over federal environmental laws.

Although underwritten by corporate donations, the institute intends to provide neutral guidance in the politically charged debate over regulatory reform, its sponsors said.

"Our interest in this is not to be pro-regulation or anti-regulation," said John W. Snow, chairman of CSX. Rather, he said he hoped the Hopkins institute would ensure that environmental rules are based on "sound science" and "attack the right targets."

Mr. Snow is chairman of the Business Roundtable, representing the chief executives of the nation's 200 largest corporations. He estimated that the nation's businesses have spent $750 billion to comply with government rules, which he said was a substantial and excessive burden.

Business leaders have been lobbying Congress to overhaul environmental and food safety laws. Reform legislation is pending in the House and Senate, though it is opposed by the Clinton administration and environmentalists.

The pending reform bills would require government to focus its regulatory efforts on those environmental problems determined to pose the greatest risks to the public, and the benefits of rules would have to outweigh the costs to industry to comply.

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