Cumulative Impacts in Environmental Justice: Insights from Economics and Policy

RFF University Fellows coauthored this journal article comparing methods for addressing cumulative impacts in environmental justice policy and analysis.

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March 7, 2024


Laura Bakkensen, Lala Ma, Lucija Muehlenbachs, and Lina Benitez


Journal Article in Regional Science and Urban Economics

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1 minute


Disparities in health and socioeconomic well-being are a result of the cumulative impacts from multiple coinciding environmental, health, and social stressors. Addressing cumulative impacts is seen as a crucial step toward environmental justice (EJ). Using the case of the United States, we compare different methods to operationalize the concept for real-world application. We empirically demonstrate the extent to which non-White and low-income neighborhoods are subject to a wide array of burdens and how these burdens are reflected in national EJ indices and housing prices. We find that non-White and low-income neighborhoods are correlated with measures of multiple environmental burdens and social stressors but correlate to a lesser extent with natural disaster risk. Two existing EJ indices are only moderately correlated and more correlated with low-income status than with percent non-White. Models that employ the housing market for benefits estimation may fail to capture preferences to avoid multiple stressors due to issues including data availability and market frictions, such as discrimination. Finally, we highlight the challenges in cumulative impacts analysis for research and policy-making.


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