Trading Away the Benefits of Green Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | May 10, 2016

In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide.

On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit, then the permit holder should pay the other entity to do so. On the second track is green infrastructure investment, a labor-intensive, capital-intensive direct investment in local urban pollution controls. Neither concept has yet gained widespread adoption, despite pilot programs and local initiatives in a few dozen places around the United States, but what happens when both concepts emerge at the same time and the same place?

Policymakers in Maryland have been kicking around the concept of nutrient trading for about a decade. After the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its nutrient trading guidance policy in 2003, the state began experimenting with how granting credits for reducing discharges in one area could be used to offset some of the water pollution associated with population growth. However, it was not until this year that state officials kicked off a series of meetings designed to create a robust nutrient credit market where buyers can not only offset growth but ...

Chesapeake Bay Program Releases 2015 Watershed Model Estimates

by Evan Isaacson | April 19, 2016
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its latest estimate of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay watershed. The annual model run of the program's Watershed Model shows that the estimated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads decreased by three percent, three percent, and four percent, respectively, compared to 2014 levels. These are important improvements, but much work lies ahead to improve water quality in the Bay and boost the fisheries, wildlife, and recreational activities it supports. The estimated decrease in ...

Ensuring Accountability and Public Participation in Stormwater Permitting

by Katrina Miller | March 25, 2016
As spring rains approach, the need for more stringent stormwater controls comes into sharper focus. Rain is a life-giver, of course, but in our ever more paved environment, it’s also a conveyance for water pollution. Stormwater runoff in urban areas travels across rooftops, roads, sidewalks and eventually into a municipal storm sewer system, all the while accumulating a cocktail of various pollutants that includes oil residue from roads, pesticides and excess fertilizer from lawns and farms, and more. These pollutants ...

Trading, Manure, and the Free Market

by Evan Isaacson | March 18, 2016
Recently, I have been noticing a number of connections between the environmental policies or issues that I’ve been studying and modern economic doctrine. I’m not sure if the number or strength of these connections are enough to claim that we’re seeing a rise in “laissez faire environmentalism” in the Chesapeake Bay region, but the implications are interesting to consider nevertheless. Nutrient trading is the best example. There is little question that the notion of pollution trading stems directly from economic ...

State Court Deals Major Setback to Effort to Reform and Modernize Maryland Stormwater Permits

by Evan Isaacson | March 17, 2016
Maryland’s high court ruled last week in favor of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in a challenge by several advocacy groups against five municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by MDE. While reading the lengthy opinion on my computer, I felt at times like a raving sports fan yelling at the TV in frustration. My frustration was borne not of the court’s specific arguments, or even of concerns over any far-reaching legal implications of the decision. Rather, to understand ...

Toxicity, Trading and Watershed Restoration: Seeking a More Holistic Approach

by Evan Isaacson | March 02, 2016
The mysterious deaths of 13 bald eagles on Maryland's Eastern Shore last month captured headlines around the country. While a tragic story, it was also a reminder of just how far bald eagle populations and those of other birds of prey have recovered over the last several decades. From a population of fewer than 1,000 in 1963, almost as many bald eagles now soar in the skies over Maryland alone. The iconic bird's recovery is a case study in the ...

Steinzor Reacts to SCOTUS Chesapeake Bay Case

by Rena Steinzor | February 29, 2016
The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in a case challenging the watershed-wide effort led by the EPA to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The Court's action leaves standing a lower court ruling upholding the effort. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following reaction: "The Supreme Court's decision is a milestone victory for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and the thousands of local waters in the Bay watershed. Today's ...

Testimony: Maryland Needs Effective Manure Management Policies to Restore Watersheds

by Evan Isaacson | February 23, 2016
Legislative committees in both the Maryland House and Senate are holding hearings this week on the Poultry Litter Management Act, a bill that has been attracting a lot of attention in Maryland and beyond. I have been asked to testify as part of a panel featuring representatives of the United States Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The focus of my testimony will be the problems posed by farm animal manure – in this case, poultry litter on Maryland’s Eastern ...

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative ...

Another Strong DOJ Settlement on Stormwater Pollution - Outside of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

by Evan Isaacson | February 18, 2016
On May 12, 2009, the federal government finally got serious about protecting the Chesapeake Bay. That’s when President Obama signed Executive Order 13508 on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, which declared that the federal government would put its shoulder into the multi-state effort to restore the Bay. Taking turns at a podium perched on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the Governors of Maryland and Virginia and the Mayor of Washington D.C. praised the President that day for ordering the ...

New CPR Analysis: Chesapeake Bay TMDL Failure Looms

by Matthew Freeman | February 04, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: Analysis of EPA TMDL Data Documents Looming Failure by Chesapeake Bay States to Meet 2017 Pollution-Reduction Goals In Report & Letters to EPA and Governors, CPR Authors Call on Bay States to Step Up, and on EPA to Begin Enforcement Actions A new analysis from the Center for Progressive Reform concludes that the efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health is veering off course because of state failures to reduce pollution ...

Maryland's Pressing Stormwater Infrastructure Needs

by Evan Isaacson | January 13, 2016
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a tragic reminder of the hidden costs of our nation’s failing infrastructure.  Whether through benign neglect or deliberate “starve the beast” cost-cutting measures, we are continually seeing the costly and sometimes terrible consequences of failing to meet our infrastructure financing needs.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade in its most recent 2013 Report Card, which included a D for both drinking water and wastewater ...

Delmarva CAFO Expansion Continues Despite Calls for a Moratorium

by Evan Isaacson | January 12, 2016
Last September, the Environmental Integrity Project put a spotlight on the dramatic increase in the number of industrial scale poultry houses being established on the Delmarva Peninsula.  In its report, More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring, the organization found that more than 200 new chicken houses had been permitted on the peninsula since November 2014, including 67 in just one Maryland county (Somerset County, on the state’s lower Eastern Shore). Shortly thereafter the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, supported by the Center for ...

Now is the Time to Restore MDE Enforcement Resources

by Evan Isaacson | December 18, 2015
A few months ago, I recounted the recent history of budget cuts to Maryland environmental agencies and their effect on the state of environmental inspections and enforcement in the state over the last two decades.  Fortunately, it appears that an opportunity to change this situation has presented itself to policymakers in Annapolis.  Recently, at the annual November meeting of the legislative Spending Affordability Committee, key lawmakers from the budget committees and House and Senate Leadership heard from the top legislative ...

Maryland Deregulatory Commission Targets Protective Bay Regulations

by Evan Isaacson | December 04, 2015
Politicians are famous for reneging on, or conveniently ignoring, campaign pledges and other promises.  In some cases, politicians put themselves in untenable positions, such as when they offer conflicting promises to different interest groups.  This is when it becomes easy to see what an elected official’s true priorities are.  Governor Hogan proclaimed that he would be “the best environmental governor that’s ever served.”  Of course, he also campaigned for “regulatory reform” in Maryland.  The Governor established a Regulatory Reform Commission ...

Support CPR on Giving Tuesday

by Robert Verchick | December 01, 2015
In August I commemorated the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by pedaling along the self-guided "Levee Disaster Bike Tour." I began beneath the muscular oaks along New Orleans' Bayou St. John and threaded my way around potholes and waterfowl to pay my respects at three prominent levee-breach sites.  The ride gave me a chance to reflect on many problems that my adopted hometown of New Orleans faces, as well as countless opportunities for improving the policies that will take advantage of ...

Confusion, Frustration as Maryland High Court Hears Stormwater Permits Case

by Evan Isaacson | November 18, 2015
Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals heard several hours of oral argument in back to back (to back) cases regarding whether five different municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) complied with the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution laws. Although divided into separate cases due to their unique procedural histories, the three cases were consolidated into one marathon oral argument due to the substantial overlap of the issues involved. The ...

EPA Cracks Down on Stormwater Pollutants in Rhode Island

by Evan Isaacson | October 27, 2015
Here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, polluted runoff from impervious surfaces, such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, and a vast network of roads, is a huge problem.  In fact, while pollution from wastewater treatment plants has decreased significantly since EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) several years ago, and while overall agricultural pollution has even decreased slightly during that same general period, nitrogen pollution from stormwater has actually increased since 2009. The lack of progress in ...

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. The Chesapeake Bay watershed—the land that drains into the Bay—encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C. This national treasure has been deteriorating since the 1930s. The Obama Administration made important progress, however, pressing states to reduce pollution flowing into the Bay.. 

How Tax 'Reform' Impacts the Bay -- and Everything Else

Isaacson | Nov 17, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

Summer: The Season of Sickness for America's Waters

Isaacson | Aug 16, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

The Unclean Water Rule

Isaacson | Jul 13, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

A Dark Day for the Bay

Isaacson | Mar 17, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

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