How Garden-Variety Air Pollution Regulation Promotes Environmental Justice
Cleansing up our nation’s air advantages the disadvantaged most of all.
Evidence is mounting that air pollution regulation is an efficient way of reducing health disparities between disadvantaged communities and the population as an entire. The essential reason is straightforward: Air pollution is the most important environmental threat to poor communities and communities of color. Because the American Lung Association has said:
“The burden of air pollution will not be evenly shared. Poorer people and a few racial and ethnic groups are amongst those that often face higher exposure to pollutants and who may experience greater responses to such pollution. Many studies have explored the differences in harm from air pollution to racial or ethnic groups and people who find themselves in a low socioeconomic position, have less education, or live nearer to major sources of pollution.”
Those unequal pollution levels translate into more deaths, more asthma attacks, and more hospitalizations. Correspondingly, limits on pollution can profit low income communities and communities of color even greater than others.
A study within the January issue of the American Economic Review provides compelling evidence that capping air pollution is very useful for disadvantaged communities. Since 2000, racial disparities in exposure to dangerous high-quality particulates have decreased. Combining high-resolution satellite readings of air pollution with census data, the authors found that sixty percent of the reduced disparity was resulting from tough latest national air quality standards.
Under the Biden Administration, EPA has paid increasing heed to the environmental justice implications of air pollution regulations. As an example, in issuing emission limits on latest heavy trucks, EPA took a tough have a look at its impact on disadvantaged communities. EPA’s evaluation indicated that the rule would cut back disparities in pollution levels between whites and folks of color. The evaluation drew upon quite a few published studies, but in addition included voluminous evidence that the agency itself had assembled. EPA concluded that “non-Hispanic Blacks will experience the best reductions in PM2.5 and ozone concentrations because of this of the standards.”
In one other rule-making, EPA has considered the impact of limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Airborne mercury enters aquatic ecosystems and is concentrated because it moves up the food chain, so individuals who eat a number of fish are most in danger. EPA observed that subsistence fishers and their families are at high risk, and that subsistence fishing activity “could be related to numerous aspects including socio-economic status (poverty) and/or cultural practices, with ethnic minorities and tribal populations often displaying increased levels of self-caught fish consumption.” Particularly, “[l]ow-income Black and white populations within the Southeast and tribal fishers near the Great Lakes” were clearly at high risk. In EPA’s view, consideration of the exposure levels of those groups and the vulnerability of youngsters was enough to indicate that regulation of mercury emissions is “essential and appropriate,” because the statute required.
A well-known saying holds that a rising tide raises all ships. Within the case of air pollution, the regulatory tide seems to boost the “ships” of the disadvantaged most of all. That’s excellent news for everybody who cares about public health and everybody who cares about social justice.