Downwind and Out: The Strategic Dispersion of Power Plants and Their Pollution

Abstract

US environmental policy cedes substantial authority to local governments/agencies—creating potentials for polluters to strategically export emissions. We identify such strategies among coal-fueled power plants. We document electricity generators locate near administrative borders. As water may influence borders/siting, we develop a simple, non-parametric test that demonstrates coal plants locate to reduce their downwind exposure. Natural-gas plants—facing lower regulatory pressure—do not exhibit this behavior. Using a state-of-the-art, particle-trajectory model, we illustrate coal pollution’s extreme mobility: within 6 hours, 50% of coal plants' emissions leave their source states—99% leave their counties. These strategic responses emphasize the importance of federal oversight and transport-focused regulation.

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