Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Beth McGee, Senior Regional Water Quality Specialist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has a piece on nutrient trading in the current Bay journal. Dr. McGee notes that although trading may be the most controversial and criticized aspect of the Bay TMDL , it is essential for achieving our water quality goals. While complicated and rife with potential pitfalls, it can result in a ‘win-win’ if done well, and we should all step forward and work together to achieve the circumstances under which this win/win will occur.

Much of the controversy surrounding trading derives from concerns that those circumstances – the design and implementation of exemplary nutrient trading programs – constitute a much tighter strike zone then we can reasonably expect to be achieved or maintained.

Trading proponents suggest that we have no choice but to try since the political support for trading means that ‘the train has already left the station’.

To the extent that this is the case it may be because, for some, a win/win seems virtually assured.

If nutrient trading works in the way that its proponents hope – point sources get dispensations to increase their discharges and non point sources get paid to reduce their loads – then polluters (both point and non point) will win in the way that they hope.

If it works in the way that its opponents fear – non point sources get paid and point sources get credit for reductions that never occur – then polluters will win in the way that they fear.