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Offshoring Pollution: Is the United States Increasingly Importing Polluting Goods?


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  • Arik Levinson


The question posed by the title of this article has been at the heart of debates about pollution havens, industrial flight to developing countries, and now carbon "leakage." Is the United States increasingly importing goods whose production generates relatively more pollution, rather than manufacturing those goods domestically? The consensus seems to be "yes," at least judging by the many public policies designed to counteract this offshoring of pollution. The evidence, however, is mixed, at least in part because empirical research has focused on a slightly different set of questions. After reviewing this research, I present a simple methodology for answering the specific question asked in the title. Using the World Bank's 1987 inventory of industry-specific U.S. air pollution emissions intensities, Bureau of Economic Analysis input--output tables, and data on U.S. imports, I show that from 1972 to 2001 the composition of U.S. imports shifted toward relatively clean goods, rather than polluting goods. Perhaps more surprising, this "green" shift of U.S. imports is even larger than the corresponding green shift of U.S. domestic manufacturing. Based on this analysis, the article concludes that over the past thirty years, the United States does not appear to have been offshoring pollution by importing polluting goods. Copyright 2010, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in its journal Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

Volume (Year): 4 (2010)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 63-83

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Handle: RePEc:oup:renvpo:v:4:y:2010:i:1:p:63-83

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Cited by:
  1. Christian Gross, 2011. "Explaining the (non-) causality between energy and economic growth in the U.S. - A multivariate sectoral analysis," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2011-04, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  2. Millimet, Daniel L. & Roy, Jayjit, 2011. "Three New Empirical Tests of the Pollution Haven Hypothesis When Environmental Regulation is Endogenous," IZA Discussion Papers 5911, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. David I. Stern & Frank Jotzo & Leo Dobes, 2013. "The Economics of Global Climate Change: A Historical Literature Review," CCEP Working Papers, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University 1307, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  4. Keisuke Kawata & Yasunori Ouchida, 2013. "Offshoring, trade and environmental policies: Effects of transboundary pollution," IDEC DP2 Series, Hiroshima University, Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation (IDEC) 3-8, Hiroshima University, Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation (IDEC).
  5. David I. Stern, 2010. "The Role of Energy in Economic Growth," CCEP Working Papers, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University 0310, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  6. Millimet, Daniel L., 2013. "Environmental Federalism: A Survey of the Empirical Literature," IZA Discussion Papers 7831, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Giulio Cainelli & Massimiliano Mazzanti & Roberto Zoboli, 2011. "Enviromental Innovations, Complementarity and Local/Global Cooperation," Working Papers 201104, University of Ferrara, Department of Economics.
  8. Pilkington, Brian & Roach, Richard & Perkins, James, 2011. "Relative benefits of technology and occupant behaviour in moving towards a more energy efficient, sustainable housing paradigm," Energy Policy, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 39(9), pages 4962-4970, September.
  9. Grether, Jean-Marie & Mathys, Nicole A., 2013. "The pollution terms of trade and its five components," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 100(1), pages 19-31.
  10. Lovely, Mary & Popp, David, 2011. "Trade, technology, and the environment: Does access to technology promote environmental regulation?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 16-35, January.


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