New Administration Water Pollution Trading Policy is Illegal, Says NRDC

EPA Scheme Will Worsen Water Pollution, Threaten Public Health

WASHINGTON (January 13, 2003) -- The new trading scheme announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency allowing polluters to buy the right to increase their water pollutant discharges is illegal, said NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

"This new policy violates the Clean Water Act, which protects all of our waterways from pollution -- not just some," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "Under this scheme, the water quality in some of our lakes, streams and rivers will be traded away for the benefit of other waterways. The EPA is trading good quality water for bad."

Trading allows polluters that cut their discharges to "sell" those reductions as credits to other polluters who are not able or willing to reduce their pollution. When used appropriately, trading can be a tool for reducing the cost of improving water quality. NRDC and other environmental groups support trading programs that improve water quality by setting pollution limits that decline over time, called "cap and trade" programs. The new EPA policy, however, does not require a cap, does not require polluters to reduce their discharges over time, and allows polluters to avoid compliance by simply buying credits. "Under this policy, our waterways are for sale," said Stoner. "Only corporate polluters will benefit."

NRDC and other groups have urged EPA to limit trading to cases in which additional pollutant reductions are necessary to meet water quality goals -- such as reducing the nutrient pollution that causes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico -- and not allow toxic pollutant trading. The new policy, however, will allow polluters to use trading to evade their compliance obligations and even allow them to trade persistent bioaccumulative pollutants, such as mercury, in pilot projects.

Community groups oppose toxic pollutant trading because it can create toxic hot spots that threaten the health of children who play in, drink from, or eat fish from contaminated water. "Poor communities, disadvantaged communities and minority communities will bear the brunt of this misguided policy," said Stoner. "They are the least likely to have the resources to protect themselves from corporate polluters."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.