Washington The Environmental Protection Agency is clearing the way for states to create trading programs that will allow industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants to buy and sell each other's pollution.
The trading programs will rely on economic incentives to meet federal water quality standards, EPA officials say, possibly saving the public millions of dollars in water cleanup costs.
"It applies to anyone who's looking for a least-cost way to meet water quality standards," G. Tracy Mehan III, who heads EPA's Office of Water, said Thursday. "Because of the efficiency and the cost savings, it reduces the barriers and hopefully speeds up cleanup of our impaired waters."
The program is to be announced Monday by EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
Industrial and municipal facilities will be able to acquire pollution "credits" by certifying that they have reduced their own pollution beyond what is required by law using up-to-date technologies.
Those who do not meet water quality limits in their permit could buy those credits. Landowners and farmers also could create credits to be sold, for example, by changing cropping practices or by planting shrubs and trees next to a stream, the EPA says.
Among the biggest pollutants targeted by the new approach are phosphorous and nitrogen, both nutrients from animal waste that run off farms and into rivers and streams.
"This is a whole new approach to dealing with water in the United States. We have not used market-based approaches in the past," said Paul Faeth, managing director of World Resources Institute, an environmental organization.