New Report: Three Fundamental Flaws in Maryland's Water Pollution Trading Regulations

by Evan Isaacson | December 18, 2017

On December 8, the Maryland Department of the Environment published its long-awaited nutrient trading regulations, capping more than two years of effort to develop a comprehensive environmental market intended to reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. 

A trading market would allow people, companies, and governments required by law to reduce the amount of pollution they discharge to purchase "credits" for pollution reduction efforts undertaken by someone else. In theory, water pollution trading ensures overall discharges are capped over time and encourages reductions to happen where they can be achieved at the lowest cost. If done right, a trading program may provide an incentive for some to reduce pollution beyond what is required of them by law. 

Pollution trading has been credited with major achievements across the United States. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to environmental degradation. Much depends on the type of pollutants, how they are introduced into the environment, and where and how they cause harm. Trading has worked in the right circumstances. It is rightly credited with reducing the pollutants that cause acid rain, and it is seen as a useful tool in reducing climate-change-inducing greenhouse gases – in both cases because much of the pollution comes from power plants with smokestacks that can be monitored and controlled. But now Maryland is proposing to start a trading program with water pollution sources such as farm fields and parking ...

Summer: The Season of Sickness for America's Waters

by Evan Isaacson | August 16, 2017
It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean time for back-to-school sales, last-ditch beach getaways, or Shark Week re-runs. Instead, I'm referring to the time of year when we're once again reminded just how sick our waterways are. Every year around this time, we read about massive dead zones and toxic algal blooms infecting large swaths of our nation's inland and coastal waters. The combination of warming water temperatures and fertilizer runoff during the growing season leads to ...

Assessment Finds Wide Variety in Quality of County Stormwater Plans in Maryland

by Evan Isaacson | October 17, 2016
Today, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) is releasing an assessment of the plans and progress of Baltimore City and the nine largest counties in Maryland to comply with their federal stormwater permits, a key component of the ongoing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and restore it to health. The analysis looks carefully at the jurisdictions' past efforts and future plans, revealing a wide range in the apparent commitment and level of restoration activity as they work to ...

Lessons from Annual Bay Conference

by Evan Isaacson | June 08, 2016
Late last month, almost 250 water quality advocates and officials convened in Annapolis for what is likely one of the largest gatherings of Chesapeake Bay experts. The 2016 Choose Clean Water Coalition conference brought together experts from each of the seven Bay jurisdictions and the federal government to share their experiences and ideas and to hear from some of the officials in charge of the Bay restoration process. They included Maryland's Secretary of the Environment, the Director of the Chesapeake ...

Trading Away the Benefits of Green Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | May 10, 2016
In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide. On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit, ...

Climate Change Increases Need for Reform of Nonpoint Source Pollution and Stream Flow Approaches

by William Andreen | April 29, 2016
The Clean Water Act has been a success in many ways. The discharge of pollutants from both industrial and municipal point sources has plummeted, the loss of wetlands has been cut decisively, and water quality has improved broadly across the entire nation. Despite all of that progress, many of our waters remain impaired. The primary reason for this lies in the failure of the Clean Water Act to effectively tackle two significant sources of water pollution: nonpoint source pollution (diffuse ...

Chesapeake Bay Program Releases 2015 Watershed Model Estimates

by Evan Isaacson | April 19, 2016
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its latest estimate of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay watershed. The annual model run of the program's Watershed Model shows that the estimated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads decreased by three percent, three percent, and four percent, respectively, compared to 2014 levels. These are important improvements, but much work lies ahead to improve water quality in the Bay and boost the fisheries, wildlife, and recreational activities it supports. The estimated decrease in ...

CPR Briefing Paper: Chesapeake Bay States Need to Strengthen Penalty Policies to Make Sure there is No Profit in Pollution

by Robert Glicksman | April 19, 2013
Industries that discharge water pollution are required to abide by clean water laws and regulations that limit how much they can pollute the nation's rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. If they exceed their limits or fail to implement appropriate methods for controlling their pollution, they violate the law. Such violations should trigger appropriate sanctions to deter all regulated entities from committing future violations. Unfortunately, polluters may weigh decisions about whether and how much to pollute from a dollars-and-cents perspective ...

Update: Judge Approves Settlement on Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Florida

by Yee Huang | November 18, 2009
A few months ago, I wrote about a landmark agreement by the EPA to set numeric, statewide nutrient pollution limits  -- the first of its kind in the United States. Florida, like most states, has qualitative nutrient pollution limits, which are written in terms such as, “in no case shall nutrient concentrations of body of water be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of flora or fauna.” Terms like this are difficult to measure objectively and ...

Pressing the Button

by Matthew Freeman | November 10, 2009
New in movie theaters this past weekend was a horror flick called, “The Box,” starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple given a disturbing choice. They are presented with a mysterious box, equipped with a button. If they press the button, they’ll get $1 million, but someone they do not know will die. The premise is striking, but it’s not quite so fictional as we’d like to think. Every day in the United States and across the globe, ...

One More Point on the N.Y. Times Water Article -- the Problem of Nonpoint Source Pollution

by William Andreen | September 16, 2009
Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws included a shocking example of how a regulatory gap in the Clean Water Act can harm public health. For example, the article referred to water supplies in parts of the Farm Belt that are contaminated by dangerous levels of pesticides, which originate with agricultural runoff and cannot be corrected by enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Although the Act provides a comprehensive regulatory program for point source ...

Cheaper to Pollute in China than in the United States? Yes, But...

by Ben Somberg | September 01, 2009
A recent article on Forbes.com, "China: Where Poisoning People Is Almost Free," gave great examples of just how cheap it often is to pollute in China. And it pointed to potential consequences: While companies can get away with pollution atrocities for years, the Chinese government, in the long run, may have to pay a high price for allowing it: political instability triggered by the unanswered grievances of pollution victims. Manufacturers, of course, can and have moved overseas to countries -- ...

Nationwide Implications from EPA Nutrient Pollution Settlement

by Yee Huang | August 28, 2009
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to set specific, statewide numeric standards for nutrient pollution in Florida, marking the first time the EPA has forced numeric limits for nutrient runoff for an entire state. This settlement, based on a 1998 EPA determination that under the Clean Water Act all states were required to develop numeric standards for nutrient pollution, has implications for the thousands of impaired rivers, lakes, and estuaries across the United States. Under the Clean Water Act, ...

Farm Bill 2018: Down Payment on an Effective Conservation Title

Ristino | Jan 17, 2018 | Environmental Policy

A Final 2017 Dose of Op-Eds

Freeman | Dec 28, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

Farber | Dec 27, 2017 | Energy

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