PEC Urges Help for Cleaning Up Chesapeake Bay

Harrisburg, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Environmental Council today urged support for a credit trading program that enables wastewater plants and farmers to get the help they need for reducing nutrients to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“We believe that nutrient trading will provide a flexible and voluntary option for achieving net water quality improvement to the Chesapeake Bay,” PEC president Brian Hill said in testimony before the Senate Republican Policy Committee.   “We recognize that it is not a panacea, but it is an important tool to help improve water quality.”

A federal mandate gives municipalities in the Bay watershed only two more years to significantly reduce the amount of excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that enter the waterways.  These nutrients cause growth of algae, which depletes oxygen and harms other aquatic life.

Reducing nutrient discharges from wastewater treatment facilities will be expensive, so PEC is promoting a nutrient trading program in which farmers and other landowners who can remove extra nutrients through their land-management activities could then sell “credits” to those who cannot meet their required reductions, potentially in a cost-effective way.

“We understand that trading presents several challenges, including credit estimation, certification, and market confidence,” Hill said.  “However, the Council believes that nutrient trading can work.  The Council has learned that partnerships and communication are the key ingredients for the success of the trading program.”

Hill based his comments on the Council’s extensive experience in nutrient management.  PEC currently is working with the World Resources Institute to develop NutrientNet, an on-line trading tool that will provide a central, standardized marketplace where farmers, sewage-treatment-plant operators and others will be able to post “buy” or “sell” offers for nutrient credits.  The tool will determine the amounts of these credits based on best-management practices (BMPs) involving crop and pasture land, streambanks and conservation tillage.

PEC has also demonstrated how nutrient trading credits work through several its Conestoga River Reserve Auction Project, the Antrim Township Nutrient Trading Project, Exelon-Lancaster Health System Forested Riparian Buffer Project and other projects.  PEC is also developing a best-management practices manual for golf courses and other projects.

“We recognize that there are several challenges that remain, including the significant expense for upgrading wastewater treatment facilities and the need for securing long-term sources of nutrient reduction credits to meet the demands of the development community,” Hill said.   “The Council supports additional funding for wastewater infrastructure improvements and also recommends a focused effort to find long-term sources of credits for new developments.”