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Advocacy Group Mounts Legal Challenge to Pollution Trading Permit in Pennsylvania

Appeal challenges permit to purchase credits to avoid meeting nitrogen and phosphorus discharge limits established to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

WASHINGTON - Food & Water Watch filed an appeal this week in Pennsylvania challenging a water pollution trading permit that authorizes Keystone Protein, a poultry processing and rendering plant, 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 Tarah Heinzen, a staff attorney with Food & Water Watch. “Pollution trading allows polluters to keep polluting, rather than observe legally enforceable limits required under federal law. The Chesapeake Bay and local waterways have already been severely degraded by industrial pollution in the region, and trading schemes will only make a bad situation worse.”

Based on its large nitrogen and phosphorus discharges, Keystone Protein should be assigned strict, enforceable pollution limits that will not undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). But Pennsylvania’s new permit allows Keystone Protein to discharge unlimited nutrients. Replacing facility-specific limits on nitrogen and phosphorus discharges with an option to purchase unlimited pollution credits derived from unknown sources is inconsistent with the Clean Water Act’s requirements for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.


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“We can’t let pollution trading, which only benefits polluters themselves, replace common sense regulations that have proven effective at protecting our communities,” said Heinzen. “The Clean Water Act has protected our waterways for the last 45 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.”

The Pennsylvania permit was issued as Maryland, the recipient of much of the pollution Pennsylvania sends downstream, prepares to issue its own regulations authorizing pollution trading. Maryland’s trading regulations are poised to further undermine water quality progress.

“Pollution trading is a failure in Pennsylvania, and threatens further progress cleaning up local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Heinzen. “Maryland should learn from this failed scheme and abandon its proposed rules to allow yet more pollution trading in the Bay watershed.”


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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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