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Publication Date


First Advisor

Gregory White

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Environmental inequality, Environmental justice, Local capture, Environmental governance


After the reform and opening era in the 1980s, China experienced astounding economic growth at the expense of the environment. While there is a robust literature on environmental inequality analyzing how rural, fiscally-poor regions were disproportionately impacted by the environmental exploitation of the “grow now, clean later” development model, these issues have not been closely studied in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (BTH) region. This thesis looks to fill the gap in the literature analyzing the socio-political and economic drivers of environmental inequality at the macro and micro-level in the BTH region of China. In addition, this thesis analyzes the variation in environmental pollution through the lens of Environmental Justice, a theory originating in the U.S. in the 1980s that has not yet been applied to the BTH region.

The thesis begins with an analysis of the flaws in China’s environmental institutions that have led to the dramatic variation of environmental pollution in the BTH region. China’s environmental institutions generally lack authority and autonomy as they are subordinate to other governmental institutions and rely on them for funding. In addition, China’s environmental institutions are riddled with bureaucratic complexity that discourages vertical and horizontal coordination. These issues disproportionately impact fiscally-poor regions, where Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs) receive inadequate revenue, pushback from government officials, and are unable to coordinate with other EPBs to address regional environmental issues. Section III provides a quantitative analysis of how local capture disproportionately impacts revenue poor cities in the BTH region. A city’s reliance on polluting industries for its total GDP shows a strong, negative correlation to its government revenue, indicating that less developed cities are more likely to rely on polluting industries to generate adequate government revenue. These findings are supported by an analysis that finds that a city’s reliance on polluting industries for total GDP is negatively correlated with environmental transparency. Lastly, Section IV of the thesis provides a case study of the relocation of Shougang’s manufacturing plants from Beijing to Tanghai county through an Environmental Justice lens. Tanghai county was likely chosen by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the siting because it was less likely to put up an effective opposition to the relocation, due to its lack of socio-political and economic clout.


©2021 Morgan Corinne Peirce Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers while on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other off-campus researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.




87 pages : illustrations, color maps Includes bibliographical references (pages 82-87)