452 U.S. 490 (1981)




Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.


Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Act)., "to assure so far as possible every

working man and woman in the Natiow,safe and healthful working conditions. . . ." The Act authorizes the

Secretary of Labor to establish, after notice and opportunity to comment, mandatory nationwide standards

governing health and safety in the workplace. In 1978, the Secretary, acting through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), promulgated a standard limiting occupational exposure to cotton dust, an

airborne particle byproduct of the preparation and manufacture of cotton products, exposure to which induces a « constellation  of respiratory effects" known as "byssinosis. » This disease was one of the expressly recognized health hazards that led to passage of the Act.


         Petitioners in these consolidated cases, representing the interests of the cotton industry, challenged the validity of the "Cotton Dust Standard" in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pursuant to S 6 (f) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. S 655 (f). They contend in this Court, as they did below, that the Act requires OSHA to demonstrate that its Standard reflects a reasonable relationship between the costs and benefits associated with the Standard. Respondents, the Secretary of Labor and two labor organizations, counter that Congress balanced the costs and benefits in the Act itself, and that the Act should therefore be construed not to require OSHA to do so. They interpret the Act as mandating that OSHA enact the most protective  standard possible to eliminate a significant risk of material health impairEnent, subject to the constraints of economic and technological feasibility. The Court of Appeals held that the Act did not require OSHA to compare costs and benefits,


The starting point of our analysis is the language of section 6(b)(5) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. 5 655(b)(5) (emphasis added), provides:


The Secretary, in promulgating standards dealing with toxic materials or harmful physical agents under this

subsection, shall set the standard which most adequately assures, to the extent feasible, on the basis of the best available evidence, that no employee will suffer material impairment of health or ftinctional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard dealt with by such standard for the period of his working life.


Although their interpretations differ, all parties agree that the phrase 64to the extent feasible" contains the critical language in 5 6(b)(5) for purposes Of these cases.


The plain meaning of the word "feasible" supports respondents' interpretation of the statute. According to

Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language 831 (1976), "feasible" means

"capable of being done, executed, or effected." . . . Thus, S 6(b)(5) directs the Secretary to issue the standard that "most adequately assures . . . that no employee will suffer material impairment of health," limited only by the extent to which this is "capable of being done." In effect then, as the Court of Appeals held, Congress itself defined the basic relationship between -costs^ and benefits, by placing the "benefit" of worker health above all other considerations save those making attainment of this "benefit" unachievable. Any standard based on a balancing of costs and benefits by the Secretary that strikes a  different balance than that struck by Congress would be inconsistent with the command set forth in 5 6(b)(5). Thus, cost-benefit analysis by OSHA is not required by the statute because feasibility analysis is.


When Congress has intended that an agency engage in cost-benefit analysis, it has clearly indicated such intent on the face of the statute. One . * * example is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments of 1978, providing that offshore drilling operations shall use the best available and safest technologies which the Secretary determines to be economically feasible, wherever failure of equisetum would have a significant effect on safety, health, or the environment, except where the Secretary determines that the incremental benefits are clearly insufficient to justify the incremental costs of using such



These and other statutes demonstrate that Congress uses specific language when intending that an agency engage

in cost-benefit analysis. Certainly in light of its ordinary meaning, the word "feasible" cannot be construed to articulate such congressional intent. We therefore reject the argument that Congress required cost-benefit analysis in 5 6(b)(5).