After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Author Archives: Bill Dennison

Nutrient Trading: Our Concerns

(Posted by Bill Dennison)

Nutrient trading is the buying and selling of nutrient reduction credits that have a monetary value for the reduction of either nitrogen or phosphorus loading to the waterways. The concept of nutrient trading is to unleash free market forces for nutrient reduction strategies, similar to the approach used with carbon trading to address global warming.

Nutrient trading is a relatively new concept in ecosystem restoration that has been initiated for the Chesapeake Bay. Using the new Google analysis tool (‘ngrams’), nutrient trading only appears in the literature around 1990, but has increased rapidly, with a doubling of citations roughly every three years. There is excitement about nutrient trading as a new approach, and this excitement is evident in the various policy statements explaining nutrient trading. Along with this excitement, there is considerable skepticism also evident, and the issue is often emotive.

The Senior Bay Scientists and Policymakers group has reviewed the status of nutrient trading as applied to Chesapeake Bay restoration. We found that there are a variety of different definitions for nutrient trading being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies, and that there is a lack of data and case studies to support or refute assertions about nutrient trading. The fact that nutrient trading is complicated, emotive and data poor makes this approach one that deserves close scrutiny and scientific rigor. Within the Senior Bay Scientists and Policymakers group, our nutrient trading report is a carefully crafted consensus between fairly intense and polarized viewpoints and it took quite a bit of effort to strike this balance.

The nutrient trading report by the Senior Bay Scientists and Policymakers answers the question “Is nutrient trading a good thing for Chesapeake Bay?” with a qualified “Yes it could be, but there are major concerns,”  listing ten caveats and recommendations for implementing nutrient trading.  A strong case is made for exercising caution in developing a nutrient trading program, recognizing that a nutrient trading system on this scale is unprecedented.

The ten caveats and recommendations for nutrient trading articulated in the report are the following:

  1. Nutrient trading is a relatively new and untested technique for pollutant reductions in waterbodies that makes assumptions regarding short- and long-term effects.
  2. All efforts should be made to improve and then preserve local water quality.
  3. Independent, rigorous, and transparent verification is essential.
  4. A policy of net improvement credit is needed to account for uncertainties in non-point sources reductions and runoff variability.
  5. Nutrient trading should not be used to maintain discharges at technology levels below industry standards.
  6. Nutrient trading may create environmental justice issues by moving problems to disadvantaged areas.
  7. Trading could benefit large organizations and corporations without protecting the interests of local waterways and grassroots entities.
  8. The total impacts of nutrient trades need to be measured and adequate compensation provided.
  9. Credited practices and the models used to calculate the amounts of credits awarded need to be standardized.
  10. Growth allocations should be based on demonstrated pollution reductions in other sectors, not on speculative, proposed reductions in those sectors.

It is evident from these ten caveats/recommendations that there are many ways to do nutrient trading badly, and fewer ways to get it right. We feel that there is only one shot at getting it right and developing market integrity is key. The scientifically rigorous verification by independent entities will be essential for the ongoing integrity of a nutrient trading program.

We have produced this nutrient trading report to encourage an active, robust discussion about the issue. We welcome your comments and viewpoints and would very much like to hear what you have to say about nutrient trading.

2012: Changing the Dialogue About Chesapeake Restoration

(This is the first in a series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)

(Posted by Bill Dennison)

What's It Going to Take?Our New Year’s resolution for 2012 should be to improve our public dialogue about Chesapeake restoration. Instead of public arguments, recriminations, and debates about the watershed models, we should be talking about innovative approaches to reducing nutrients reaching the Bay. Instead of arguing about how restoring Chesapeake Bay will be too expensive, we should be embracing the new jobs that restoration activities create (see the Chesapeake Bay Foundation report “Debunking the ‘Job Killer’ Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region”). Instead of bemoaning the difference between current conditions and the “good old days,” we should be celebrating the achievements that are being made with respect to realistic, short term targets. Continue Reading

Finally, some good news! Shrinking dead zones linked to nutrient reductions

(Posted by Bill Dennison.)

In a recent scientific publication by Rebecca Murphy and Bill Ball from Johns Hopkins University and Michael Kemp at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, an analysis of 40 years of Chesapeake Bay data reveals some important new insights.Continue Reading

Chesapeake Bay Report Card: “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News”

(Posted by Bill Dennison.)

This year’s Chesapeake Bay report card, produced by EcoCheck, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, was released last week. The overall report card score was a C-, based on data collected throughout 2010. Unfortunately, this report card score declined from the 2009 report card which was a C, and this was the first time the score declined since 2004. Of the fifteen reporting regions, only two had higher scores than last year, but nine had lower scores, leaving four with no change. Continue Reading

Chesapeake Bay Literacy Meets Chesapeake Bay Action

(Posted by Bill Dennison.) The seven essential things that one needs to know to become literate about Chesapeake Bay have been described in a previous post on the Integration and Application Network blog as the following: Chesapeake Bay is a large, shallow and productive estuary formed by a drowned river valley. The extensive Chesapeake watershed…Continue Reading

Comparing Two Icons: Chesapeake Bay and the Great Barrier Reef

Posted by Bill Dennison.

The Integration and Application Network has been working with various groups in Queensland, Australia to produce an environmental report card for the Great Barrier Reef, modeled in some ways after the Chesapeake Bay report card. Comparisons between the two large ecosystems can be made and these comparisons can provide insight into both Chesapeake Bay and the Great Barrier Reef.Great Barrier ReefContinue Reading