Clean Air = Dirty Water?

The New York Times has just released another fantastic story in its “Toxic Waters” series. The article highlights some of the complexities involved when attempting to address externalities and the tragedy of the commons. The article also vividly illustrates how solutions to such externalities and commons problems often create new (presumably unintended) spillovers (on externalities and commons see Coase 1960; Hardin 1968; Dietz, Ostrom, Stern 2003, etc). In other words, we see how new framings rather than solving problems can actually set in motion a cascade of overflows (see Callon 1998, 2007, etc).  In this case cleaner air comes at the expense of dirtier water, at least in part because the institutional arrangements (such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act) have been designed in ways that do not account for the interrelatedness of these dynamic processes.

Source: New York Times

Source: New York Times

At a more practical level the story is again accompanied by an interactive database of water polluters searchable by location.  For this story the database has been updated with the ability to look specifically at the violation records of coal fired power plants. Of note, Pennsylvania coal plants represent 4 out of the 15 violators of clean water regulations in the United States.  These plants include:

For more on the issue of water pollution, see my earlier post here.

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