Abel Russ, attorney at Environmental Integrity Project

Abel Russ, attorney at Environmental Integrity Project

The concept of “pollution trading” – allowing a source of pollution (such as a wastewater treatment plant or new development) to reduce its water quality impact by purchasing “credits” generated through reducing pollution elsewhere – is often a tough subject to understand. With Maryland currently pursuing a trading program, we sat down with Environmental Integrity Project’s Abel Russ to break it all down.

Pollution Trading in Maryland

Russ explained that Maryland is currently rushing to finalize a trading scheme that focuses on nitrogen and phosphorus, which are key pollutants of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. But why should Marylanders care?

According to Russ, the state is “rushing” to finalize the proposed trading regulations before the end of the year, but they are “not ready for prime time.”

“Due to drafting errors or unclear language, the current regulations would create confusion and unintended negative consequences,” said Russ. “For example, certain sources may be eligible to sell nutrient “credits” because they have reduced their nutrient loads below their TMDL target. However, it isn’t clear how the credits would be calculated, and it’s possible that some sources could offer credits for sale without actually reducing their pollution loads.”

Russ also said that Maryland’s current proposal would not meet EPA expectations for trading programs and may even lead to a net increase in pollution loads.

Trading in Other States

Pennsylvania and Virginia both have trading programs, but their effect on water quality remains unclear. Russ also explained that it is extremely difficult to attribute any water quality improvements to trading.

“Many of the nutrient credits represent reductions from nonpoint sources like agriculture best management practices, which are rarely or never monitored. So we don’t really know how much pollution these nonpoint sources have prevented,” he said.

EIP in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

EIP has a busy team in the Bay watershed. Its team of legal experts, researchers and communications staff work on pollution issues across several sectors, including industrial point sources, wastewater treatment plants, drinking water treatment plants and various nonpoint sources.

“We analyze pollution loads; we publish reports about sources of pollution that we think should be getting more attention; we litigate to ensure that environment laws are being complied with; and sometimes we do our own monitoring in the field,” said Russ. “Most recently, for example, we released a report about wastewater treatment plants in the Bay watershed, focusing on the ones that are overdue in meeting their goals.”

EIP is also involved in long-term advocacy efforts. They weigh in on the policies that EPA and the Bay states are developing to implement the TDML, including nutrient trading, various aspects of EPA’s Bay model and others.

To learn more about EIP, visit http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/, and read their latest report with Center for Progressive Reform on trading in Maryland here: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/marylands-pollution-trading-rules/