Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks?
This paper examines spatial variations in exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial facilities in urban areas of the United States, using geographic microdata from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project. We find that average exposure in an urban area is positively correlated with the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the distribution of the exposure burden. This correlation could arise from causal linkages in either or both directions: the ability to displace pollution onto minorities may lower the effective cost of pollution for industrial firms; and higher average pollution burdens may induce whites to invest more political capital in efforts to influence firms’ siting decisions. Furthermore, we find that in urban areas with higher minority pollution-exposure discrepancies, average exposures tend to be higher for all population subgroups, including whites. In other words, improvements in environmental justice in the United States could benefit not only minorities but also whites.
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