The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday announced an expanded partnership to advance water quality trading, a market-based system that uses pollutant reduction credits to improve compliance with Clean Water Act requirements.
"New water quality trading markets hold incredible potential to benefit rural America by providing new income opportunities and enhancing conservation of water and wildlife habitat," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Additionally, these efforts will strengthen businesses across the nation by providing a new pathway to comply with regulatory requirements."
The water quality trading provides a cost-effective approach for regulated entities to comply with EPA Clean Water Act requirements, including water quality-based effluent limits in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, the agencies said. It is based on a pilot program first introduced in 2006.
Trading would allow regulated entities to purchase and use pollutant reduction credits generated by other sources in a watershed.
"EPA is committed to finding collaborative solutions that protect and restore our nation's waterways and the health of the communities that depend on them," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "We're excited about partnering with USDA to expand support for water quality trading, which shows that environmental improvements can mean a better bottom line for farmers and ranchers."
Cost savings and other economic incentives are key motivators for parties engaged in trading, the agencies said, noting that water quality trading can also provide additional environmental and economic benefits, such as air quality improvements, enhanced wildlife habitat, carbon capture and storage, and new income and employment opportunities.
Both EPA and the USDA are working together on coordinating policies to encourage water quality training. Aspects of those polices are expected to include:
• Enhanced communications and outreach to states, agricultural producers, regulated sources, and interested third parties on water quality trading;
• A review of grants, loans or technical assistance programs focused on water quality trading;
• Sharing of rules and guidance that have the potential to affect water quality trading;
• Collaboration on developing tools and information resources for states and credit generators to guide decision making, reduce costs in program design and implementation, improve environmental performance, and foster consistency and integrity across regional initiatives;
• A workshop by 2015 to share tools and resources available to assist in stakeholder decision making and opportunities.