On October 11, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) announced their intention to propose regulations that would establish a nutrient pollution trading program in the state. The program would enable buying and selling of nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment reduction credits. In theory, a buyer might purchase these pollution credits to offset a pollution source that would not be allowed otherwise. A seller would generate credits by installing Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce pollution. The regulations were submitted to the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee for a 15-day review. The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) has found serious flaws in the proposed regulations that could result in more pollution, not less, in Maryland’s waterways.

Nutrient and sediment pollution trading has been talked about in Maryland for the past several years and MCAC released a set of five principles on pollution trading on December 15, 2015. MCAC has also been an active participant in the Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee, an ongoing consultative group led by MDE that provides direction to Maryland’s trading program, since its inception in January 2016. The advisory committee has been discussing trading regulations, and an initial draft of the regulations was distributed to the committee on June 7 of this year. MCAC submitted comments on July 7 outlining its concerns on twelve specific aspects of the regulations.

MCAC evaluated the newly proposed regulations against the concerns raised in its July 7 letter and its principles on pollution trading. Unfortunately, although MDE addressed several of our concerns, major flaws in the regulations remain. Throughout the proposed regulations, ambiguity and a lack of detail raise questions regarding how this policy will be applied, leaving the potential for loopholes and unforeseen consequences for clean water.

While a pollution trading program could have potential to reduce pollution, MCAC remains concerned that any trading program could also harm water quality if proper safeguards are not installed in the program rules. These rules as currently proposed are simply not ready for Maryland’s rule book and should go back to the Department for improvement and additional clarity before being submitted to the Maryland Register.

This table below summarizes our concerns. We offered detailed explanation on each of the twelve issues in our July 7 comment letter, and we evaluated the proposed regulations based on these issues:

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MDE’s timeline indicates that they plan to submit the regulations to the Maryland Register on November 13. We appreciate that the Department has scheduled a public hearing on the regulations on November 30, but we cannot wait that long to address our major concerns. We call upon the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee to ensure the Department addresses these concerns prior to publishing the regulations in the Register. Finally, we ask the Department to give full consideration to the above referenced concerns and to hold an extended public comment period to allow the public to fully consider the impact of these highly complex rules.

For any questions, please contact:

Evan Isaacson, Center for Progressive Reform

Abel Russ, Environmental Integrity Project