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Immigration and environmental emissions: A U.S. county-level analysis

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This paper investigates the immigration–environment association using U.S. county-level data, for a subset of counties (N = ~200), and a model inspired by the STIRPAT approach. The analysis makes use of U.S. census data for the year 2000 reflecting U.S.-born and foreign-born populations, combined with county-level data reflecting emissions of CO2, NO2, PM10, and SO2. With a focus on approximately 200 primarily urban counties for which complete data are available, and after controlling for income, employment in the utilities and manufacturing sectors, and coal consumption for SO2 estimations, few statistically significant associations emerge between population composition and emissions. Counties with a relatively larger U.S.-born population have higher NO2 and SO2 emissions. On the other hand, counties with a relatively higher number or share of foreign-born residents have lower SO2 emissions. Although limited to cross-sectional analyses, the results provide a foundation for future longitudinal research on this important and controversial topic.

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  1. The connotations foreign population, foreign-born, and immigrants that are used in this paper are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth. This includes naturalized U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (immigrants), temporary migrants (such as foreign students), humanitarian migrants (such as refugees), and people illegally present in the United States.”

  2. The EPA reports six air pollutants, the other two ground-level ozone and lead. These two are excluded from the analysis since ground level ozone is generally problematic only in the summer season and lead is specific to lead smelters and various stationary sources.

  3. The full data set is available at

  4. Further information about air pollutants are available at

  5. Per capita GDP data are not available at the county level.

  6. Previous research has typically used sector-based per capita GDP. However, such data are not available at the county level.

  7. Unfortunately, such data are neither available for 2000 nor at the county level.

  8. See e.g. York et al. (2003) for CO2 and Cole and Neumayer (2004) for CO2 and SO2. CO2 is not included in this study because it is generally perceived as a global externality (Frankel and Rose 2005). The use of total emissions in lieu of emissions per capita is consistent with Cole and Neumayer (2004).

  9. The introduction of income squared is consistent with Frankel and Rose (2005).

  10. I would like to thank an anonymous referee for this insight.


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I would like to express my gratitude to Lori Hunter for constructive comments and suggestions. My sincere thanks also go to four anonymous referees for helpful comments. All remaining errors are my own.

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Correspondence to Jay Squalli.

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Squalli, J. Immigration and environmental emissions: A U.S. county-level analysis. Popul Environ 30, 247–260 (2009).

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