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Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Denounces Nutrient Trading for Bay


The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) today announced its support for the goals of a lawsuit filed against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the agency’s authorization of a pollution trading scheme to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The lawsuit, filed by the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of Food and Water Watch, questions the EPA and Maryland’s approach to restoring Chesapeake Bay water quality by 2025 with a “nutrient trading” program in which polluters are permitted to buy and sell “credits” toward complying with limits on pollution, in this case nutrients.

“Let’s call it what it is—it’s pollution trading,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It would provide polluters with an escape hatch from laws that protect public health.”

To generate credits, a polluter must reduce releases of nutrients further than what the law requires. The number-one source of Bay nutrients in Maryland is agriculture, according to Maryland state government, with “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs) that raise poultry on the Delmarva Peninsula responsible for much of this.

Under Clean Water Act regulations, CAFOs are “zero-discharge” facilities. They may not discharge nutrients or any other pollutants to the Bay except in major storms. It is therefore unclear how CAFOs would be allowed to generate credits.

The nutrient trading program’s rules, which could specify whether and how CAFOs may participate, have not been published yet. On Friday, however, the American Farm Bureau Federation asked the judge hearing the lawsuit to let it intervene on EPA’s behalf.

“The intervention by the Farm Bureau is quite telling because it means they expect CAFOs to be able to trade credits,” said Lawrence. “For CAFOs to generate tradable credits, it seems that laws that protect public health would need to be weakened. Enhanced enforcement of existing law is far more likely to reduce public health risks posed by nutrients in the Bay.”

Pollution in the Bay, by nutrients and other pollutants, creates not only environmental harms such as dead zones and algal blooms, but also creates threats to public health. As pollution in the Bay increases, harmful pathogens flourish. Through both recreational contact with water and drinking water, humans are at risk of exposure to harmful pathogens. Some of these pathogens include pfiesteria and cyanobacteria. Infants who consume nitrites from excess nitrogen in drinking water may be at risk of “blue baby syndrome.” Other exposures could include Vibrio bacteria, fecal coliforms, cryptosporidium, giardia, antibiotics, hormones, and arsenic.

About The Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, promotes research and develops and communicates information about the interrelationships among diet, food production, environment and human health. The Center also promotes policies that protect human health, the global environment and the ability to sustain life for future generations.

Contact: Chris Stevens, Center for a Livable Future, 410-502-2317 or

Contact: Tim Parsons, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 410-955-7619 or