Case #847.1

Managing Environmental Risk: The Case of Asarco (Sequel)

Publication Date: January 01, 1988
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In July 1983, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus issued proposed regulations to control arsenic emissions from copper smelting and glass manufacturing plants. At the same time, he announced that EPA would involve residents of the Tacoma, Washington area--—home of a copper smelting plant owned by the American Smelting and Refining Company (Asarco)--—in the decision as to whether to make the standards more stringent. EPA believed the regulations it was proposing would still leave the risk of one additional cancer death per year among area residents, but imposing further controls could lead to the closing of the plant and the loss of over 500 jobs. In drawing local citizens into the decision-making process, Ruckelshaus was providing a forum in which to test his ideas on managing risk. This case describes the public workshops and hearings that EPA held to involve residents in the final decision-making.

Learning Objective:
This case has been used as a vehicle for broadening students' notions about the responsibilities of public officials, and for raising complicated issues about the relative importance of process and content in public policymaking in an open society. It illustrates the challenge posed to a democracy by complex technical policy problems. It provides a foundation for exploring issues of accountability among senior federal officials, their regional staff, state and local officials, interest groups, and even the press.

Other Details

Case Author:
Esther Scott, Richard Innes
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
American Express Fund for Curricular Development in Ethics