U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy today 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 an innovative, 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 an innovative means of meeting Clean Water Act stormwater 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 nutrient trading program is a strong example of how to create economic opportunity and new income for rural America while protecting and improving local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “The program is a win for the environment and our economy and we encourage states to look at Virginia as a model and a resource as they adopt similar programs.”
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 stormwater 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 percent 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.
"The Chesapeake Bay faces numerous challenges, and the Commonwealth of Virginia is responding with innovative thinking and collaboration across sectors,” said Mike Boots, who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Not only do creative approaches like these provide new markets for private investors and generate new revenue for farmers, they also bolster the strength of our natural resources, improving their resilience to threats posed by a changing climate and other stressors.”
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.