Cushing finds historical redlining associated with power plant siting and pollution inequalities
Lara Cushing is the lead author of a December 2022 study finding that historical red-lining is associated with fossil fuel power plant siting and present-day inequalities in air pollutant emissions. Read the open-access article in Nature Energy and a summary in Axios.
"What's clear from this study is that the ways in which neighborhoods were valued, and specifically racist sentiment about the value of homes based on who lived in them, did come into play on a structural level," Lara Cushing, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA, tells Axios.
Rachel Morello-Frosch tells Axios that the study should be used to inform climate policies that target deeper emissions reductions in formerly redlined communities."To my knowledge, the study is the first to examine how a legacy of structural racism...has shaped the siting of power plants across the U.S. over time, with implications for current day exposures to harmful air pollutants in those communities living nearby these facilities," she said.
Abstract: Stationary sources of air pollution are disproportionately located in communities of colour, but the causes for this disparity are unclear. Here we assess whether racialized appraisals of investment risk (‘red-lining’) undertaken by the US federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s influenced the subsequent siting of fossil fuel power plants. Across 8,871 neighbourhoods in 196 US urban areas, we observed a stepwise correlation between risk grade, number of power plants and cumulative quantity of power plant emissions upwind and within 5 km. Controlling for pre-existing power plants, neighbourhoods deemed ‘hazardous’ (D grade, ‘red-lined’) had a higher likelihood of a fossil fuel power plant being sited between 1940 and 1969 (72%), 1970 and 1999 (20%) and 2000 and 2019 (31%), and higher average present-day emissions of nitrous oxides (82%), sulfur dioxide (38%) and fine particulate matter (63%) compared with ‘declining’ (C-graded) neighbourhoods. Our results suggest racism in the housing market contributed to inequalities in present-day power plant emissions burdens.
Citation: Cushing, L.J., Li, S., Steiger, B.B. et al. Historical red-lining is associated with fossil fuel power plant siting and present-day inequalities in air pollutant emissions. Nat Energy 8, 52–61 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-022-01162-y