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(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.