Impact of Racial Power Inequality on Environmental Quality

Georgia Fox, Erik Johnson, Department of Economics, Carthage College, 2001 Alford Park Dr Kenosha, WI 53140

The environmental justice movement is interested in the unequal distribution of pollution placing an undue burden on minority and poor people. Race-based inequality has been found to persist across economic strata. While the correlation between race, income, and environmental quality is evident, most studies have focused on the patterns of pollution without identifying the cause. A theory from Boyce (1994) proposes that inequality in power results in worse environmental degradation. Called the “Power Weighted Social Decision Rule” powerful people tend to be those who benefit from pollution and they have a greater ability to bear the transaction cost of negotiating the level of pollution. As a result, there is more pollution than the socially optimal level. Many successive empirical studies testing Boyce’s hypothesis have focused on income inequality. I am interested in a similar line of inquiry, the impact of racial power inequality on environmental quality. A few similar studies conclude that the offsetting of pollution on minority communities results in a worse environmental quality for people of every background. In order to test for a causal relationship between racial power inequality and environmental degradation, I use a fixed effects model on US counties for the years 1990, 2000, and 2010. EPA Risk-Screening Environmental Indicator (RSEI) scores serve to measure environmental degradation. Residential racial segregation, calculated by Theil’s Index, is used as a proxy for racial power inequality. Other variables known to impact environmental quality are included as controls. The analysis is limited to metropolitan counties according to their USDA Rural-Urban Continuum Code category. For my results, I found that segregation was not a significant predictor of environmental degradation. While this relationship may not exist for metropolitan counties, multiple methodological improvements, including using Core-Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and a more comprehensive measure of environmental quality, could provide more accurate results. 

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Georgia Fox

Institution: Carthage College

Type: Poster

Subject: Economics

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 5
Date/Time: Tue 12:30pm-1:30pm
Session Number: 4147