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By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Ben Grumbles is an unabashed champion of the total maximum daily load, the so-called 'pollution diet' in place to reduce runoff of agriculture nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay. But the former Environmental Protection Agency official acknowledges TMDLs may not be the right approach for all parts of the country.
Grumbles is Maryland's secretary of the department of the environment and a former assistant administrator for water at the EPA during the George W. Bush administration. He told an audience Tuesday at the National Workshop on Water Quality Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska that while he strongly supports TMDLs, he believes they aren't a universal answer to reducing nutrient runoff. Rather, a combination of regulation and development of water-quality trading markets may be the best alternative, he said.
TMDLs have been the target of legal battles mounted against what many perceive is a federal government power grab to direct states to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
"I don't recommend the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in every region of the country," Grumbles said. "I can say this as a Maryland official -- we're very proud and very supportive of being an aggressive and supportive partner in the Chesapeake Bay and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. It's collaborative, aggressive. It will not work in other areas of the country because it has to work through collaboration."
A common outcry in parts of the Midwest and other regions where agriculture is prevalent is a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrient reduction would be harmful to farmers and ranchers who may be required to adopt conservation measures not necessarily beneficial to the environment or their operations.
Grumbles said the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is working because many industries have come together to solve the nutrient runoff problem. It can be humbling, he said -- it requires those parties to subject themselves to scrutiny.
"The states have to voluntarily agree to be subjected to more peer pressure and EPA oversight," he said. "For me, I think a real driver for Maryland and for other states like Virginia, are the TMDL. And hopefully for other upstream states like Pennsylvania, that the TMDL will lead to more trades. And I think that's a good thing. What it also has done for us in Maryland is underscore the absolute necessity to update the science of soil fertility index and go with the more modernized index for measuring phosphorous on the Eastern shore, put in place more aggressive regulations."
DOES TRADING WORK?
Currently, water-quality trading markets are in operation or in development in 15 states. The idea is larger industries that pollute pay farmers and other landowners to put proven conservation methods in place to reduce water pollution.
A Duke University study conducted in 2014 found that allowing industries to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could not only reduce water pollution faster, but could lower industry costs of compliance.
Though there is a national push underway to establish more local water-quality trading markets, not everyone is convinced agriculture is doing enough to make a water-quality trading system effective.
The group Food and Water Watch called on USDA and EPA to cancel the event held in Lincoln this week.
Scott Edwards, an attorney for Food and Water Watch, told DTN in an interview that the group has been studying water-quality trading programs in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest industries pushing water-quality trading, as well as major municipalities with large wastewater treatment plants.