Search Google

Current Issue





Volume 15, Issue 10 ~ March 8 - March 14, 2007

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

Paying for Our Inalienable
Right to Pollute

Our neighbor to the north has come up with a modest proposal from which we can all benefit

I think we have finally turned the corner on saving the Chesapeake Bay, thanks to the clever folks who run Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. They’ve put the fun back in pollution. Pennsylvania polluters will now be allowed to buy and sell pollution credits in the name of improving water quality.

For years now, Maryland and Virginia have been hammering on Pennsylvania to get its environmental act together and implement some tough regulations to help stem the steady red tide smothering the Bay. The Keystone State comprises a big chunk of the Chesapeake watershed, contributing tons of sediments and other water contaminants via the mighty Susquehanna River. Runoff from farms and sewer treatment plants has been spilling over the Conowingo Dam for years.

Good Bush Thinking

Pennsylvania point-source polluters, like power plants or sewer treatment facilities, out of compliance with federal or state clean water regulations, will now be able to buy pollution credits from non-point sources like farmers.

Let’s say you are the city of Lancaster. You have a busted old sewer treatment plant and you can’t afford the millions of dollars it will take to upgrade. But there’s a dairy farm a few miles away that has a manure management program, streamside buffers planted in native trees, a cover-crop rotation system and sediment- and erosion-control plans, all of which exceed state requirements. The farm could be certified by the state and receive credits for a job well done. Its do-good credits could then be purchased by the city of Lancaster to offset the excess crap coming out of its sewer plant.

This is actually not a new idea. The Bush administration has been trying to sell this shell game for years. Under the guise of the Healthy Skies Act, power plants in the Midwest can continue sending their polluted air to the Mid-Atlantic as long as they buy credits from plants in other parts of the country that fall below federal Clean Air limits. The basic idea is that the pollution created in one place is offset by someone not polluting in another.

Handicapping Pollution

So how does Pennsylvania determine the number of credits? Or how much each credit is worth? Or what the overall benefit to the Bay might be?

Well, they have come up with a surefire system of checks and balances to ensure their new pollution credits program is so complex that no one could begin to understand it.

According to the Pennsylvania DEP, “A credit is a unit of compliance that corresponds with a pound of reduction of nutrient or sediment which may be used in a trade.”

But in order to appease those pesky environmentalists who have always been skeptical of pollution trading, Pennsylvania is applying several “ratios,” or handicaps, to determine the credit value. There are delivery, reserve and edge-of-stream ratios, based on the distance one is from the Bay, after applying a 10 percent fudge factor based on estimates from the Bay model. Got it?

Once a business is certified, it can enroll in the Nutrient Net, where credits are bought and sold like stocks. Once purchased, the polluter only has a year to enjoy the new credit before having to apply to the state for re-certification.

Ergo, Folks

Have you figured out what all this means and how it applies to Maryland?

If the ultimate goal is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous and sediment from running into the Bay every day. If farms contribute almost half of that mix …

Then imagine the benefits if we were to convert every farm in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties into sprawling subdivisions that pollute much less. Just think of how many credits we’d have then.

Can Our Sinking Ship Be Saved?

Q Regarding Steve Carr’s column “Glub … Glub … Glub … [Vol. xv, No. 6: Feb. 8]: We’re sinking, global warming suspected,” what can humanity realistically do, at this point in time, to halt, reverse or at least minimize this trend?

—Art DeVita, A Concerned Citizen in Richmond, Virginia

A I’ll take a shot at answering your excellent question about what each of us can realistically do to stem the global warming tide.

Here are several things we can all do to reduce our contribution to global warming.

1. Drive less. Car pool. Take public transportation.

2. Do your homework to determine which businesses are green. For instance, as we lose our tree cover, several large lumber companies, through the tireless efforts of the Forest Stewardship Council, are working closely with large lumber distributors like Home Depot to certify that the timber harvesting was sustainable. By refusing to purchase products from companies that do not operate in an environmentally responsible manner, consumers can, ultimately stop (or certainly impact) the bottom line of those companies.

3. Use certified green products: light bulbs, hybrid cars and chemicals that do not contain harmful toxins or emissions.

4. Purchase solar-powered heating and cooling systems to offset at least some of the CO2 emissions from the natural gas- or oil-powered systems in your home.

5. Support politicians who are truly committed to addressing this impending global warming disaster. 

This said, one can reasonably argue that we have already reached the tipping point and that the global warming problem is not reversible. In addition, if China does not get onboard with the Kyoto Protocol, the efforts of other developing nations will be pointless.

I believe we have reached the point of no return. But I am not prepared to give up and do nothing. Would you tell your children that the world we are passing down to them is doomed? I think not. We must try at least, if only as individuals, to turn this ship around and save the planet.

I suggest an excellent book that spells out the problem in a very well-reasoned and frightening way: Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed.


© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.