On December 8, 2017 the Maryland Department of Environment’s (MDE) published its proposed Water Quality Trading Program regulations which would establish rules for creating a nutrient pollution credit trading market. The weak draft rules fail to protect local water quality and, if not dramatically improved, would prevent Maryland from meeting its Chesapeake Bay cleanup targets under EPA’s Bay cleanup plan, and actually cause an increase in pollution.
Nutrient trading is a market-based approach that involves the exchange of pollution allocations between sources. Say Facility X is exceeding its nitrogen and phosphorus limits while Facility Y is staying under its limits. Facility Y sells their unused pollution load to the nutrient trading exchange and Facility X buys these credits to get them under their permit limits. So far so good. The Chesapeake Bay nutrient trading program allows exchanges to take place as long as the facilities are on the same tributary. In this case, tributary means the entirety of the Potomac watershed. Thus, credits may be generated far down a river may be purchased at the top of the river and force users there to suffer due to degraded water conditions. Credits can also be exchanged between point sources at different ends of the watershed. A nutrient discharger on the Upper Potomac could literally buy credits from a wastewater plant on the Lower tidal Potomac, a hundred miles downstream.
To further complicate matters, credits are co-mingled in a common account so there is no way of tracking where exactly the credits are being generated to assess the overall impact on the Potomac River watershed.
Nutrient trading has been going on in Virginia for several years, but now that Maryland is formally embracing it, we are concerned it will become more widespread. We want to be vigilant and active on the issue because, as a general matter, PRKN does not support its use in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly in the Potomac River. However, EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Program explicitly encourage nutrient trading to achieve the goals of the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. In that context, PRKN offered comments, and urged MDE to make the suggested revisions to the final trading regulations to address the clear inadequacies of the draft.
To read the full text of PRKN’s comments, click PotomacRiverkeeperNetwork Comments MDE Draft Trading Regs.