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EPA Awards $85,000 Grant to Support Pollution Trading Project on Long Island Sound

Release Date: 03/06/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON - The US Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been chosen as one of only 10 projects in the country for piloting the agency's new water quality trading program announced this winter by EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

DEP is pursuing an innovative project in which wastewater treatment plants are allowed to sell and buy credits for releases of nitrogen pollution into Long Island Sound. In essence, wastewater plants that reduce nitrogen discharges below what their discharge permit requires are allowed to sell credits to facilities that are discharging nitrogen at levels above what their permit allows. (Technically the credits are bought and sold through a DEP-operated Nitrogen Credit Exchange. The NCE acts as a bank administering the trades and establishing the credit values.) The project is a pivotal component of a region-wide effort involving New York and Connecticut aimed at reducing overall nitrogen discharges into the sound by 58.5 percent by 2014, compared to 1990 discharge levels.

EPA's Office of Watersheds, Oceans and Wetlands has awarded DEP an $85,000 grant to evaluate the success of the trading program in Connecticut during its first two years in operation. The first such buying and selling of credits between Connecticut's wastewater plants are expected to be announced this spring. This evaluation will also assess how the program could be expanded to allow trading for nitrogen from stormwater and runoff.

The trading program is designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound quicker and at less cost than traditional regulatory approaches. Less nitrogen pollution will result in a healthier environment for marine life as well as better, cleaner recreation for communities around the sound.

"I am pleased by EPA's recognition of the value of our innovative approach to nitrogen reduction in Long Island Sound. I am confident that the results gathered through this grant will verify that trading works – achieving faster results at a lower cost," said DEP Commissioner Arthur J. Rocque, Jr. "Our program is truly a bold step for the restoration of Long Island Sound, and a valuable model for others. It is a tribute to the leadership at EPA-New England that such approaches are recognized, rewarded and promoted to others."

Announced in January by EPA Administrator Whitman, the agency's new Water Quality Trading Policy is designed to give federal, state and local regulators more flexibility to maintain and improve the nation's waters in less costly ways.

"This policy recognizes that the most effective and economical way to reduce pollution is to provide incentives to encourage actions by those who can achieve reductions easily and cost effectively," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator at EPA's New England Office. "The result for Long Island Sound will be cleaner water, at less cost, and in less time. It provides the flexibility needed to meet local challenges while demanding accountability to ensure that water does improve."

Nitrogen pollution is a major water quality problem in Long Island Sound. Much of the pollution comes from the more than 79 wastewater plants in Connecticut that discharge either directly into the Sound or to rivers that flow to the sound. Excess nitrogen causes hypoxia, or low dissolved oxygen, which hurts the habitat of marine life and diminishes the population of fish and shellfish.

Water quality trading uses economic incentives to improve water quality. It allows one source to meet its regulatory obligations by using pollutant reduction actions created by another source that has lower pollution control costs.