The Hogan administration announced Friday a renewed effort to devise a "pollution trading" system in Maryland, which proponents contend could speed cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay by lowering the cost.
Environmentalists reacted cautiously, saying the idea has potential but could worsen pollution if not done carefully.
The state departments of the environment and agriculture jointly released a set of principles for how pollution trading would be done, and pledged to draft guidelines with the help of stakeholders that could permit trading to begin "at the earliest possible moment."
Proponents say trading could significantly reduce the projected $15 billion cost to Maryland of curtailing nutrient pollution fouling the bay. Communities facing expensive mandates to upgrade sewage plants or reduce stormwater pollution, for instance, might be able to meet their requirements by paying farmers far less to reduce runoff of fertilizer from their fields.
"Enhancing, preserving and restoring the Chesapeake Bay is an expensive proposition," Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. Trading, which brings market forces to bear, is "sound science and strategy, and will help us meet our Chesapeake Bay goals."
The O'Malley administration attempted to craft a trading program but abandoned the effort after failing to get consensus among all parties with a stake in the issue.
"We all want to find cost-efficient, science-based ways to restore local water quality," said Dawn Stoltzfus, coordinator of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. "But the devil will be in the details — any trade needs to be transparent, verifiable and enforceable."