Kevin Lewis

August 21, 2019

The Effects of Local Industrial Pollution on Students and Schools
Claudia Persico & Joanna Venator
Journal of Human Resources, forthcoming

Using detailed education data between 1996-2012 from the state of Florida, we examine whether pollution from local Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites affects student achievement and high stakes accountability school rankings. Using event study and difference-in-differences designs, we compare students attending schools within one mile of a TRI site that opens or closes to students attending schools between one and two miles away. We find that being exposed to air pollution is associated with 0.024 of standard deviation lower test scores, increased likelihood of suspension from school, and increased likelihood that a school’s overall high stakes accountability ranking will drop.

Estimating the effect of air pollution on road safety using atmospheric temperature inversions
Lutz Sager
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, forthcoming

Does air quality influence road safety? We estimate the effect of increased air pollution on the number of road traffic accidents in the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2014. To address concerns of spurious correlation we exploit atmospheric temperature inversions as a source of plausibly exogenous variation in daily air pollution levels. We find an increase of 0.3–0.6% in the number of vehicles involved in accidents per day for each additional 1 μg/m3 of PM2.5. The finding suggests that less safe roads may present a large and previously overlooked cost of air pollution. The results are robust to a number of specifications and across various sub-samples.

Formative Experiences and the Price of Gasoline
Christopher Severen & Arthur van Benthem
NBER Working Paper, July 2019

An individual's initial experiences with a common good, such as gasoline, can shape their behavior for decades. We first show that the 1979 oil crisis had a persistent negative effect on the likelihood that individuals that came of driving age during this time drove to work in the year 2000 (i.e., in their mid 30s). The effect is stronger for those with lower incomes and those in cities. Combining data on many cohorts, we then show that large increases in gasoline prices between the ages of 15 and 18 significantly reduce both (i) the likelihood of driving a private automobile to work and (ii) total annual vehicle miles traveled later in life, while also increasing public transit use. Differences in driver license age requirements generate additional variation in the formative window. These effects cannot be explained by contemporaneous income and do not appear to be only due to increased costs from delayed driving skill acquisition. Instead, they seem to reflect the formation of preferences for driving or persistent changes in the perceived costs of driving.

Reluctant Disclosure and Transparency: Evidence from Environmental Disclosures
Kira Fabrizio & Eun-Hee Kim
Organization Science, forthcoming

Strategic management research increasingly examines firms’ strategies for corporate environmental and social disclosures. There are benefits to being perceived as having superior environmental performance, but firms face increasing pressure to provide more complete disclosures, potentially exposing information that will be viewed negatively by external stakeholders. We examine linguistic obfuscation as a means to balance this tension. In particular, we argue that firms may intentionally make their disclosures more complex and harder to understand, thereby blurring the negative content and increasing information processing costs of the recipient. In the context in which an information intermediary actively collects information from firms and evaluates them, we find that firms with unfavorable news to disclose use linguistic obfuscation in information disclosure to manage the tension between the pressure for more complete disclosures and the desire to project a positive image. We further demonstrate that obfuscation lessens the negative impact of reporting negative information on environmental performance ratings given by information intermediaries. This suggests that firms can and do use linguistic tactics to influence environmental ratings.

Can Tolling Help Everyone? Estimating the Aggregate and Distributional Consequences of Congestion Pricing
Jonathan Hall
University of Toronto Working Paper, June 2019

Economists have long advocated road pricing as an efficiency-enhancing solution to traffic congestion, yet it has rarely been implemented because it is thought to create losers as well as winners. This paper uses survey and travel time data, combined with a structural model of traffic congestion, to estimate the joint distribution of agent preferences and evaluate the aggregate and distributional effects of road pricing. I find that adding tolls on half of the lanes of a highway yields a Pareto improvement. Further, the social welfare gains from doing so are substantial --- up to $1,740 per road user per year.

Firms and Collective Reputation: A Study of the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
Ruediger Bachmann et al.
NBER Working Paper, July 2019

This paper uses the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal as a natural experiment to provide evidence that collective reputation externalities matter for firms. We find that the Volkswagen scandal reduced the U.S. sales of the other German auto manufacturers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Smart — by about 105,000 vehicles worth $5.2 billion. The decline was principally driven by an adverse reputation spillover, which was reinforced by consumer substitution away from diesel vehicles and was partially offset by substitution away from Volkswagen. These estimates come from a model of vehicle demand, the conclusions of which are also consistent with difference-in-differences estimates. We provide direct evidence on internet search behavior and consumer sentiment displayed on social media to support our interpretation that the estimates reflect a reputation spillover.

Does Air Pollution Crowd Out Foreign Direct Investment Inflows? Evidence from a Quasi-natural Experiment in China
Weibing Li & Kaixia Zhang
Environmental and Resource Economics, August 2019, Pages 1387–1414

This study investigates whether air pollution crowds out foreign direct investment in China. We use a regression discontinuity design based on the lower air pollution to the South of the Qinling Mountains–Huai River line because the government did not develop coal-based central heating networks there, contrary to north of the line. We observe that for every 1% increase in PM2.5 concentration, foreign direct investment flows decrease by 0.393%, and foreign direct investment stocks decrease by 0.015%. By tracing the potential mechanisms, we find that air pollution may exert a negative impact on foreign direct investment inflows through its impacts on the health risks of the labor force and health insurance spending of foreign firms.

Particulate matter air pollution and national and county life expectancy loss in the USA: A spatiotemporal analysis
James Bennett et al.
PLoS Medicine, July 2019

Background: Exposure to fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) is hazardous to health. Our aim was to directly estimate the health and longevity impacts of current PM2.5 concentrations and the benefits of reductions from 1999 to 2015, nationally and at county level, for the entire contemporary population of the contiguous United States.

Methods and findings: We used vital registration and population data with information on sex, age, cause of death, and county of residence. We used four Bayesian spatiotemporal models, with different adjustments for other determinants of mortality, to directly estimate mortality and life expectancy loss due to current PM2.5 pollution and the benefits of reductions since 1999, nationally and by county. The covariates included in the adjusted models were per capita income; percentage of population whose family income is below the poverty threshold, who are of Black or African American race, who have graduated from high school, who live in urban areas, and who are unemployed; cumulative smoking; and mean temperature and relative humidity. In the main model, which adjusted for these covariates and for unobserved county characteristics through the use of county-specific random intercepts, PM2.5 pollution in excess of the lowest observed concentration (2.8 μg/m3) was responsible for an estimated 15,612 deaths (95% credible interval 13,248–17,945) in females and 14,757 deaths (12,617–16,919) in males. These deaths would lower national life expectancy by an estimated 0.15 years (0.13–0.17) for women and 0.13 years (0.11–0.15) for men. The life expectancy loss due to PM2.5 was largest around Los Angeles and in some southern states such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama. At any PM2.5 concentration, life expectancy loss was, on average, larger in counties with lower income and higher poverty rate than in wealthier counties. Reductions in PM2.5 since 1999 have lowered mortality in all but 14 counties where PM2.5 increased slightly. The main limitation of our study, similar to other observational studies, is that it is not guaranteed for the observed associations to be causal. We did not have annual county-level data on other important determinants of mortality, such as healthcare access and quality and diet, but these factors were adjusted for with use of county-specific random intercepts.

Effects of policy-driven hypothetical air pollutant interventions on childhood asthma incidence in southern California
Erika Garcia et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 August 2019, Pages 15883-15888

Childhood asthma is a major public health concern and has significant adverse impacts on the lives of the children and their families, and on society. There is an emerging link between air pollution, which is ubiquitous in our environment, particularly in urban centers, and incident childhood asthma. Here, using data from 3 successive cohorts recruited from the same 9 communities in southern California over a span of 20 y (1993 to 2014), we estimated asthma incidence using G-computation under hypothetical air pollution exposure scenarios targeting nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter

Congenital heart defects and intensity of oil and gas well site activities in early pregnancy
Lisa McKenzie, William Allshouse & Stephen Daniels
Environment International, forthcoming

Background: Preliminary studies suggest that offspring to mothers living near oil and natural gas (O&G) well sites are at higher risk of congenital heart defects (CHDs).

Methods: We employed a nested case-control study of 3324 infants born in Colorado between 2005 and 2011. 187, 179, 132, and 38 singleton births with an aortic artery and valve (AAVD), pulmonary artery and valve (PAVD), conotruncal (CTD), or tricuspid valve (TVD) defect, respectively, were frequency matched 1:5 to controls on sex, maternal smoking, and race and ethnicity yielding 2860 controls. We estimated monthly intensities of O&G activity at maternal residences from three months prior to conception through the second gestational month with our intensity adjusted inverse distance weighted model. We used logistic regression models adjusted for O&G facilities other than wells, intensity of air pollution sources not associated with O&G activities, maternal age and socioeconomic status index, and infant sex and parity, to evaluate associations between CHDs and O&G activity intensity groups (low, medium, and high).

Results: Overall, CHDs were 1.4 (1.0, 2.0) and 1.7 (1.1, 2.6) times more likely than controls in the medium and high intensity groups, respectively, compared to the low intensity group. PAVDs were 1.7 (0.93, 3.0) and 2.5 (1.1, 5.3) times more likely in the medium and high intensity groups for mothers with an address found in the second gestational month. In rural areas, AAVDs, CTDs, and TVDs were 1.8 (0.97, 3.3) and 2.6 (1.1, 6.1); 2.1 (0.96, 4.5) and 4.0 (1.4, 12); and 3.4 (0.95, 12) and 4.6 (0.81, 26) times more likely than controls in the medium and high intensity groups.

Air Pollution and Infant Mortality: Evidence from Saharan Dust
Sam Heft-Neal et al.
NBER Working Paper, July 2019

Accurate estimation of air quality impacts on health outcomes is critical for guiding policy choices to mitigate such damages. Estimation poses an empirical challenge, however, because local economic activity can simultaneously generate changes in both air quality and in health impacts that are independent of air quality, confounding pollution-health estimates. To address this challenge, we leverage plausibly exogenous variation in local particulate matter exposure across sub-Saharan Africa due to dust export from the Bodele Depression, a remote Saharan region responsible for a substantial share of global atmospheric dust. Large scale transport of this dust is uncorrelated with local emissions sources and allows us to isolate the causal impact of air quality on infant mortality across Sub-Saharan Africa. Combining detailed information on nearly 1 million births with satellite measures of aerosol particulate matter, we find that a 10mg/m3 increase in local ambient PM2.5 concentration driven by distant dust emission causes a 22% increase in infant mortality across our African sample (95% CI: 10-35%), an effect comparable to quasi-experimental pollution-infant mortality estimates from wealthier countries. We also show that rainfall over the Bodele is a significant control on PM2.5 export and thus child health, and that future climate-change driven changes in Saharan rainfall could generate very large impacts on African child health through this pathway alone. We calculate that seemingly exotic proposals to pump and apply groundwater to the Bodele to reduce dust emission could be cost competitive with leading interventions aimed at improving child health.

Climate change and overfishing increase neurotoxicant in marine predators
Amina Schartup et al.
Nature, forthcoming

More than three billion people rely on seafood for nutrition. However, fish are the predominant source of human exposure to methylmercury (MeHg), a potent neurotoxic substance. In the United States, 82% of population-wide exposure to MeHg is from the consumption of marine seafood and almost 40% is from fresh and canned tuna alone1. Around 80% of the inorganic mercury (Hg) that is emitted to the atmosphere from natural and human sources is deposited in the ocean2, where some is converted by microorganisms to MeHg. In predatory fish, environmental MeHg concentrations are amplified by a million times or more. Human exposure to MeHg has been associated with long-term neurocognitive deficits in children that persist into adulthood, with global costs to society that exceed US$20 billion3. The first global treaty on reductions in anthropogenic Hg emissions (the Minamata Convention on Mercury) entered into force in 2017. However, effects of ongoing changes in marine ecosystems on bioaccumulation of MeHg in marine predators that are frequently consumed by humans (for example, tuna, cod and swordfish) have not been considered when setting global policy targets. Here we use more than 30 years of data and ecosystem modelling to show that MeHg concentrations in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) increased by up to 23% between the 1970s and 2000s as a result of dietary shifts initiated by overfishing. Our model also predicts an estimated 56% increase in tissue MeHg concentrations in Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) due to increases in seawater temperature between a low point in 1969 and recent peak levels — which is consistent with 2017 observations. This estimated increase in tissue MeHg exceeds the modelled 22% reduction that was achieved in the late 1990s and 2000s as a result of decreased seawater MeHg concentrations. The recently reported plateau in global anthropogenic Hg emissions4 suggests that ocean warming and fisheries management programmes will be major drivers of future MeHg concentrations in marine predators.

What We Can Learn from Five Naturalistic Field Experiments That Failed to Shift Commuter Behavior
Ariella Kristal & Ashley Whillans
Harvard Working Paper, June 2019

Across five field experiments with employees of a large organization (N=68, 915), we examined whether standard behavioral science interventions (i.e., ‘nudges’) successfully reduced single occupancy vehicle commutes. In Study 1-2, we sent letters and emails that included standard nudges to increase carpooling. These interventions failed to meaningfully increase carpool sign-up or usage. In Studies 3-5, we examined the efficacy of two other well-established behaviorally-informed interventions: non-cash incentives and personalized travel plans. Again, we found no meaningful effects. Across studies the effect sizes were d=[-0.01, 0.05], with a meta-analytic effect size of d = 0.02, 95CI [-0.02, 0.06]. Equivalence testing reveals that the effect size of four of the studies is statistically equivalent to zero (p < 0.0001). Our paper presents the first set of highly powered behaviorally informed experiments on these outcomes and highlights the importance of publishing null results to build cumulative knowledge about how to encourage sustainable travel.

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