MARTINSBURG - While local wastewater treatment plant operators are interested in a nutrient credit trading program for West Virginia, local farmers have reservations about participating.
"The basic premise is if it's bad for the Chesapeake Bay, then it's hypocritical to dump our excess on someone else," Warren Mickey said Wednesday during the Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Summit.
The Jefferson County farmer is a supervisor of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and was a member of the agriculture/forestry work group that has been working since May on the second phase of West Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan.
The state was required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to write a WIP to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
The EPA ordered the six states in the bay watershed to make drastic reductions in nutrient, that is nitrogen and phosphorus, pollution getting into the bay through its tributaries.
The eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River drainage basin, which is a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Mickey attended the all-day summit at the Byrd Health Sciences Center that brought together the agriculture/forestry work group with the wastewater work group, which also was working on the WIP Phase II.
Agricultural operations and wastewater treatment plants are two of the sectors that must meet very low nutrient pollution limits as part of the Chesapeake Bay restoration program.
In a nutrient credit trading program, or offset program, farmers or wastewater treatment plant operators would be given credit for any excess pollution reductions they implement beyond the limits imposed by the EPA's so-called "pollution diet" for the Chesapeake Bay.
Under such a trading program, they would be able to sell their credits, like a commodity, to other farmers or sewer plants that had not met their required nutrient pollution limits.
Calling the trading program proposal "voodoo," he said pollution should not be shifted to someplace else.
"We can't pass the buck," Mickey said. "We must find a way to pay the bill."
Troy Truax, vice president of the consultant firm Delta Development Group, facilitated the work groups' efforts. He said Wednesday that a nutrient credit trading program is anticipated to be part of the WIP Phase II in the first phase document and that the EPA's pollution-reduction mandates assume there would be an offset program.
Truax explained that for a trading program to be implemented, existing wastewater treatment permit requirements must be met first before trading can even be considered.
He added that baselines for nutrient limits also must be established before trading can be employed and that those baselines would be established in the WIP Phase II.
Dave Montali, of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said nutrient credit trading between sewer treatment plants is possible now through the permitting process, but trading between farmers and sewer plants is not possible at this time because there is no baseline for agricultural nutrient limits.
"Phase II's goal is to define baseline for agriculture," he said.
He added, though, that he does not see a need for a "full-blown" program because he is not seeing a demand for credit trading.
"We'll set the baseline and then see if a program is called for," Montali said. "There are no resources for a program now and no big demand to justify a program."
Joe Hankins, chairman of the Jefferson County Public Service District, countered that other sectors, such as developers, will be looking for offsets to meet EPA limits placed on land development.
West Virginia Senate Bill 715, passed in 2009, specifically mandated a state NCTP be established and a framework for establishing a state NCTP was written by the West Virginia Conservation Agency.
Hankins and Montali agreed that the Conservation Agency's framework for a NCTP would be a good place to start to form a trading program under the Chesapeake Bay restoration program's requirements.
A draft of the WIP Phase II must be submitted to the EPA by Dec. 15. The final document is due March 30.