The Clean Water Act is one of the United States’ most successful environmental laws, in large part because it requires permits that impose strict pollution limits on sources like factories and wastewater treatment plants. These permits are the cornerstone of the statute, but this success is now being threatened by a water pollution “trading” approach that allows polluters to purchase pollution credits in lieu of meeting their own permits’ discharge limits.
In Pennsylvania, the state has implemented trading on a large scale and is allowing facilities like Keystone Protein, a slaughterhouse, to avoid meeting pollution limits mandated by the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan and instead purchase credits. This approach lets major polluters off the hook, undermines transparency, and makes it all but impossible for citizens to enforce permit requirements – it is also illegal.
The Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations say nothing about pollution trading because it is contrary to the very purpose and structure of the law. This has prevented citizens from challenging trading to date. But EPA has allowed states to move forward with trading despite the lack of express authority or any EPA rules. Food & Water Watch is leading a landmark case seeking to have water pollution trading declared illegal under the Clean Water Act and put an end to the practice. We are challenging the pollution trading provisions in Keystone Protein’s Clean Water Act permit, and our case was recently heard by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
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