Virginia program to serve as model for similar programs across the country
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary (USDA) Tom Vilsack, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Commonwealth of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a private investor and an Appomattox, Va., farmer to recognize a market-based nutrient trading program run by Virginia to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.
At the McConnell Safety Transportation Operation Center, in Fairfax, Va., EPA, USDA, and CEQ highlighted the cost-effective program that has saved the Commonwealth more than $1 million, demonstrating a method of meeting Clean Water Act storm water requirements and Virginia state water quality goals for the bay.
The program encourages economic investment while reducing phosphorus pollution to local waterways in order to meet water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay. It is expected similar programs will be established around the nation to provide new revenue sources for agricultural producers while reducing soil erosion and runoff.
Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has created a demand and supply market for land conservation projects that are protective of water quality for future generations. The agency’s storm water program requires reductions of phosphorus runoff from certain types of road construction projects that can be achieved by purchasing phosphorus credits from state-certified credit banks.
Credits purchased are generated by Virginia farmers in the Potomac and James River watersheds, whose farming practices have permanently reduced the amount of phosphorus flowing into those rivers and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
The farm practices are certified by the state as “nutrient credit banks” and come solely from private investors, reducing reliance on public funds and generating a new revenue stream for participating farmers. These credits cost VDOT approximately 50% less than other, more traditional engineered pollution reduction practices, such as detention ponds, and underground filters. In addition, these banks advance other goals such as wildlife habitat, stream buffers and land preservation.
USDA video of the Virginia program was highlighted at the event.
By advancing the goals of improving the health and regional economy of the Chesapeake Bay as laid out in President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order, nutrient trading is giving farmers additional income opportunities that help keep agricultural lands in production and stretch limited budgets by tapping private sector investments.
EPA and USDA are working together to implement and coordinate policies and programs that encourage water quality trading and will release a web-based water quality trading roadmap tool in early 2015. As part of a joint memorandum of understanding to support trading and environmental markets, the two agencies are centralizing information for buyers and sellers to utilize water quality trading. This resource library will be searchable and help users find information specific to their needs.
Both agencies will sponsor a national conference in 2015 for stakeholders to share experiences and move forward with trading as a valuable tool for driving environmental improvement.