Chapter 6: Power Distribution, the Environment, and Public Health
6. Power distribution, the environment, and public health (with Andrew R. Klemer, Paul H. Templet, and Cleve E. Willis) INTRODUCTION Environmentally degrading economic activities generate both winners and losers. The winners derive net beneﬁts in the form of producers’ and consumers’ surplus; the losers bear net costs arising from environmental externalities. Starting with this premise, Chapter 4 advanced two hypotheses: ﬁrst, social choices governing environmental degradation systematically favor more powerful agents over less powerful agents; and second, wider inequalities of power tend to result in greater environmental degradation. The ﬁrst hypothesis, on the identities of winners and losers, generates the prediction that the distribution of environmental costs will be correlated with other power-related variables such as income, race, and ethnicity. In recent years a substantial literature on such correlations has emerged in the USA. Case studies have drawn attention to links between socioeconomic status and pollution exposure in various locations, from Chester, Pennsylvania and Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ to South Central and East Los Angeles.1 Pioneering statistical studies by Bullard (1983) and the US General Accounting Ofﬁce (1983) found correlations between the siting of waste dumps and the racial composition of surrounding communities.2 Recent studies by Perlin et al. (1995) and Brooks and Sethi (1997) similarly found emissions of airborne toxic pollutants to be correlated with race and ethnicity at the county and postal zip-code levels. In response to concerns that minority and low-income populations bear a disproportionately high share of environmental costs, President Clinton’s Executive Order 12898 of...
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