If you near a state line, you might be getting an unusually heavy dose of pollution from your neighbors across the border.
That’s the conclusion of a working paper by political scientists James Monogan, David Konisky and Neal Woods. They report that air polluting facilities in the United States are disproportionately likely to be located near downwind borders. When the breeze picks up, noxious emissions are hustled out of state and become someone else’s problem.
The pattern highlights one of the difficulties facing pollution control efforts in the country. States play a major role in implementing U.S. environmental policies, but they also have an incentive to export the environmental and health costs of economic development across state lines.
Cross-border pollution is not a new issue. In the early 1900s, Monogan and his co-authors write, Georgia sued a Tennessee copper smelter for “despoiling forests and orchards and creating health problems for residents of bordering counties in Georgia.” New Jersey in 2006 accused the Environmental Protection Agency of failing to regulate toxic emissions from a coal-fired power plant across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. And several studies have argued that pollution levels tend to be higher near borders than in the interior of a state, a phenomenon referred to as “state line syndrome.”