WRI Releases Analysis of Chesapeake Clean Water Act

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A new analysis of the nutrient trading program contained in the proposed federal Chesapeake Clean Water Act has determined that Maryland farmers could be paid as much as $85 million annually to reduce nitrogen pollution, creating jobs and bolstering the agricultural economy. The analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI), an international leader in market based environmental programs, found that water quality trading could potentially double conservation funding compared to what is currently available in the federal Farm Bill.

“The Chesapeake Clean Water Act puts farmers squarely in the driver’s seat – directing significant public and private market dollars to farmers to address the problems,” said CBF President Will Baker.  “Even without this legislation pollution from all sources, including agriculture, will have to be reduced. Working against the legislation is short sighted and not in the best interest of farming’s future.”

Water quality trading for nutrients, or “nutrient trading,” makes it possible to achieve reductions more efficiently and at a lower cost, and offers a new revenue source for those able to sell “nutrient credits.” The trading program works like this, once a farm has implemented baseline pollution controls the farmer is eligible to sell credits for additional pollution reduction. Since reducing pollution from agriculture is the most cost effective way to reduce pollution, farmers will be able to sell the credits, for example to a municipality, for significantly less than that local government would pay to reduce a pound of pollution from stormwater.

“WRI works to identify cost-effective ways to achieve environmental goals, and our analysis supports the concept that there is a significant market for nutrient trading in the region,” said WRI President Jonathan Lash. “The creation of a market for nutrient reductions would allow farmers to earn a reasonable return for making choices that benefit the Bay and its millions of users.”

“We all are responsible for the Bay’s poor condition, and we all must take responsibility for its revival – including farmers. This legislation has the provisions, including funding and accountability, to ensure we have profitable farms and a restored Chesapeake Bay. Because we believe you can’t have one without the other.” said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director for CBF.

The trading provision of the proposed federal legislation and the federal Farm Bill are just two components of federal strategies that will benefit the agricultural community.  The Chesapeake Clean Water Act also includes no less than $96 million, and possibly substantially more, for technical assistance to farmers, as well as $75 million for a new “Stewardship Grants” program to fund pollution reduction activities.

“The technical assistance the proposed legislation will provide is critical, and has been lacking for many years,” said Chesapeake Bay Commission Executive Director Ann Swanson. “This bill will provide funding for state and local governments, colleges, soil conservation districts and others to advise and assist farmers in developing and maintaining conservation practices.”

Large agricultural interests including the Maryland Farm Bureau have expressed opposition to the Chesapeake Clean Water Act currently being considered by Congress. While they cite concerns that the pending legislation will force farmers out of business, the legislation does not mandate regulation, but sets scientifically-based standards for pollution reduction and gives the states flexibility in how to achieve them, along with consequences for failure.

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