Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Nutrient Trading, CWA, Environmental Justice, Chesapeake Bay


Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states in the Chesapeake Bay region, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency, are working toward developing water quality trading programs intended to help meet federal pollution limits for the Bay. This white paper from the Center for Progressive Reform warns that even if a trading system succeeds in reducing overall pollution in the Bay, it might still have a dire effect on low-income and minority communities in the Bay region.

If trading programs are not carefully designed and monitored, trading can cause localized concentrations of nutrients and accompanying contaminants in local waters, posing a significant threat to human health and aquatic ecosystems. For example, a sewage treatment plant could address its additional pollution by either purchasing reductions elsewhere or by installing control measures onsite. If the plant purchases credits, it will be able to discharge more sewage. These additional discharges may create “hot spots” or high concentrations of pollution in adjacent waterways that could expose residents of nearby communities, especially local fishermen and their families, to pathogens and other harmful co-pollutants.

Effective trading programs also rely on ample credit-generating activities. Municipalities may generate credits by implementing stormwater best management practices (BMPs) such as urban revegetation, bioswale construction, and greenspace expansion. These practices have secondary benefits for the communities in which those BMPs are implemented, including flood control, enhanced opportunities for exercise and recreation, increased property values, and aesthetic value. Such benefits should be enjoyed equally, throughout the watershed.

Publication Citation

Center for Progressive Reform Briefing Paper no. 1208, August 2012.


Environmental Law