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Advocacy Group Mounts Legal Challenge to Nutrient Trading Permit in Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON - On Friday, Food & Water Watch filed an appeal in Pennsylvania challenging the legality of a water pollution trading permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to Klingerstown, Pa.-based Michael Foods, an egg processing facility. The permit allows the company to purchase pollution credits from a state credit bank to avoid meeting nitrogen and phosphorus discharge limits established to protect the Chesapeake Bay. The appeal charges that the permit violates the Clean Water Act, which strictly regulates the amount of pollution that can enter waterways from industrial facilities.

“This permit allows a pay-to-pollute scheme that is illegal under the Clean Water Act,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It will fail to protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways, which have already been severely degraded by industrial pollution in the region.”

Based on its large nitrogen and phosphorus discharges, Michael Foods is a “significant” industrial discharger in Pennsylvania that has been assigned specific nutrient discharge limits, or wasteload allocations (WLAs), as part of an effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay under a cleanup plan known as the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). But Pennsylvania’s new permit fails to require Michael Foods to comply with these pollution caps. Replacing these facility-specific limits on nitrogen and phosphorus discharges with an option to purchase unlimited pollution credits derived from unknown sources, or offset their discharges with claimed reductions elsewhere, means that Michael Foods is free to ignore these limits and discharge more than its allocation. This approach is inconsistent with the Clean Water Act’s requirements for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which are intended to bring individual accountability to polluters of our nation’s waterways.

“We can’t let pollution trading, which only benefits polluters themselves, replace common sense regulations that have proven effective at protecting our communities,” said Tarah Heinzen, a staff attorney at Food & Water Watch. “The Clean Water Act has protected our waterways for the last 40 years because it holds polluting industries accountable. This permit is one step towards eroding the principles of the Act, which seeks to eliminate, rather than monetize, pollution.”


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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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