Oregon cheating on water quality trading program

water quality tradingPollution credit trading is a new idea that is already badly tarnished. Many examples of abuses exist, including an increase in production of dangerous gases in response to a United Nations climate change credit initiative. In the Pacific Northwest pollution credit trading is being touted as the solution to widespread pollution problems. But what happens when landowners are paid to plant trees they are already supposed to have planted? And what happens when agencies assume that farmers are installing pollution controls in one regulatory context but make the opposite assumption in another? How do we prevent polluters and state agencies from double-dipping or even taking credit for those trees three or four times over? Just theoretical questions? Think again, the programs have just started and they are already cheating.

On March 15th, NWEA sent a letter to EPA pointing out how a recent temperature trade in Oregon does not conform to EPA regulations. The letter looks at the City of Medford’s planting of trees to offset its temperature discharges to the Rogue River. NWEA focuses on two legal issues. The first is that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which issued the discharge permit, is falsely assuming that landowners who are getting paid to plant trees have no pre-existing obligation to plant them. The letter discusses a variety of ways in which this assumption conflicts with other regulatory actions taken by state and federal agencies. The second issue concerns DEQ’s having included in the permit an unenforceable tree planting schedule that allows Medford to drag the planting out over 19 years when it is required to be “as soon as possible.” NWEA says both the unenforceability and the timeframe conflict with EPA requirements. The bottom line: the Medford trade does not comply with EPA regulations or EPA’s trading guidance.