Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

James K. Boyce

Comprising a decade’s worth of essays written since the publication of the author’s pathbreaking book, The Political Economy of the Environment (2002), this volume discusses a number of diverse environmental issues through an economist’s lens. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.

Chapter 4: Justice in the air: tracking America’s industrial toxics

Michael Ash, Grace Chang, Manuel Pastor, Justin Scoggins and Jennifer Tran

Subjects: environment, environmental economics


On the long road to securing the right to a clean and safe environment, a historic milestone came when the US Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1986. The law, passed in the aftermath of the Bhopal chemical disaster, requires industrial facilities across the United States to disclose information on their annual releases of toxic chemicals into our air, water and lands. The premise behind the law is simple: the public has the right to know what pollutants are in our environment and who put them there. The data, available from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), are not always easily accessible or readily usable. You can track pollution to the plant that caused it, but not always to the company that is responsible. You can see the pounds of individual pollutants released at a plant, but it’s hard to cumulate the overall health impact of the plant’s multiple pollutants. And even if you can gauge the overall effect of a single facility, there is no easy way to determine what this means for a neighborhood burdened with pollution from many such sources.

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