The Impact of Surface Coal Mining on Mortality Rates: Evidence from Appalachia

(Job Market Paper)

Previous research in the public health and epidemiology literatures has highlighted that coal-producing counties in Appalachia exhibit morbidity and mortality rates higher than those in the rest of the United States.  However, most of these studies fail to control adequately for unobserved heterogeneity. We use a 31-year panel dataset of mining activity and county-level mortality rates, from 1983 to 2013, to quantify the extent of the relationship between mortality rates and coal mining using a more-rigorous econometric approach. With county-level new surface coal mines and ongoing surface coal production as "treatment" variables, we explore a number of alternative control groups. If we focus on the set of Appalachian counties that have ever had active mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, we find statistically significant public health effects of the opening of new surface coal mines on the elderly mortality rate attributable to internal causes.  For this group, the opening of a new surface coal mine is associated with an increase in the elderly mortality rate of 70-80 deaths per 100,000 population. The magnitude of this effect is small, representing just a fraction of the standard deviation in all-cause internal mortality rates across the sample. New surface coal mines are most significantly associated with increases in mortality attributable to cardiovascular disease, suggesting air pollution as a plausible mechanism. This research suggests that the potential beneficiaries of increased wages from coal mining jobs are younger than the people most likely to experience worsening health outcomes. Thus, any policy focusing on reviving the coal industry may also have implications for environmental equity in coal mining communities.


Groundwater Pollution in Oregon's Southern Willamette Valley: A Hedonic Property Value Analysis

Working Paper

It is often unclear whether housing market participants are fully aware of the true environmental quality of a particular neighborhood.  Groundwater contamination from non-point source pollution, for example, can be particularly difficult to observe. The state of Oregon requires that water quality of private wells must be tested at the time of real estate transactions, but this requirement is not enforced and state records suggest that compliance may be low. In 2004, a groundwater management area (GWMA) was established in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon, in response to a study conducted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) that found elevated nitrate concentrations. The study area, and resulting GWMA, overlap portions of Benton, Lane, and Linn Counties.  I analyze whether the ODEQ groundwater study and subsequent establishment of the GWMA appear to have affected home-buyers' perceptions of groundwater quality in the southern Willamette Valley. I find an overall positive effect on housing values for properties located within the GWMA, presumably due to expectations of future cleanup of nitrate contamination.  The effect is strongest for houses within city limits versus houses located on the edge, and outside, of urban growth boundaries, likely reflecting shifting demand from properties reliant on well water towards properties with public water service connections which are less likely to be affected by groundwater nitrate contamination.