Saturday, December 05, 2009

I've Always Hated Cass Sunstein--Now I Remember Why:

Sunstein to hire AEI Law 'n Economics ace Randall Lutter to OMB? As Atheanae would say Hell to the no. From "The Pump Handle: A Water Cooler For the Public Health Crowd." via Mike's Blog Roundup.

In 2000, Randall Lutter chided his colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for overstating the dollar value of IQ points lost as a result of lead poisoning by as much as six-fold, saying he would reduce the value to somewhere in the vicinity of $1,500. How and why? Instead of focusing on income lost to poisoned children, Lutter centers his calculations on how much a theoretical parent would be required to pay for chelation, a drastic, dangerous, and relatively rare procedure used to treat severely poisoned children.

Chelation involves injection of a toxic agent, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, which in turn leaches lead from the child’s bones. Typically done in a hospital setting, the procedure has unpleasant side effects (nausea, vomiting, pain at the injection site, etc.) and can also harm the child by removing calcium along with the lead. Lutter is clearly confused about the procedure, claiming at one point that blood lead levels “are relatively poor measures of cumulative exposure” because they can return to normal even when exposure is “excessive.” Of course, as any medical expert will tell you, by that point damage has already been done to the developing neurological system. Chelation does not avoid those results, although it may prevent seizures and other extreme symptoms of poisoning.

Lutter concludes his analysis with the observation that “federal agencies should reconsider their lead hazard standards” because overly strict limits on exposure “redistribute family resources from parents to children. But such redistribution is inequitable because children are likely to live longer and have much higher incomes than their parents.”

In a former life, I spent many hours representing lead-poisoned kids and their parents in Baltimore City courts, trying to wring cleanup out of slum landlords. (An estimated 85 percent of Baltimore rental housing contains ample amounts of lead paint, which contains as much as 40 percent pure lead by volume.) I visited their homes, listened to their anguished reports of discovering what had happened to their little ones, and argued before a series of overworked judges who did not know what to do about this pervasive and devastating problem. In the context of that reality, Randy Lutter sounds like an alien from another planet.

Last Monday, a group of public interest representatives met with Cass Sunstein to discuss OMB’s review of agency science. As the meeting wound down, I asked whether rumors of Lutter’s return to OMB were true. Sunstein and Michael Fitzpatrick, his political deputy, did lots of hemming and hawing, leaving the group with the strong impression that Lutter was under serious consideration, but never clearly confirming that he had already been hired. Within 24 hours of the meeting, perhaps by coincidence, AEI had pulled many documents referring to Lutter off its web site, including his biography.

Small wonder that Sunstein is embarrassed and big wonder why he thinks that this kind of policy advice will go unnoticed if and when he—and by implication the President—follows it.

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