The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that market-based approaches such as water quality trading provide greater flexibility and have potential to achieve water quality and environmental benefits greater than would otherwise be achieved under more traditional regulatory approaches. Market-based programs can achieve water quality goals at a substantial economic savings. EPA estimates that in 1997 annual private point source control costs were about $14 billion and public point source costs were about $34 billion3. The National Cost to Implement Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) Draft Report estimates that flexible approaches to improving water quality could save $900 million dollars annually compared to the least flexible approach (EPA, August 2001). Nitrogen trading among publicly owned treatment works in Connecticut that discharge into Long Island Sound is expected to achieve the required reductions under a TMDL while saving over $200 million dollars in control costs. Market-based approaches can also create economic incentives for innovation, emerging technology, voluntary pollution reductions and greater efficiency in improving the quality of the nation's waters.
The purpose of this policy is to encourage states, interstate agencies and tribes to develop and implement water quality trading programs for nutrients, sediments and other pollutants where opportunities exist to achieve water quality improvements at reduced costs. More specifically, the policy is intended to encourage voluntary trading programs that facilitate implementation of TMDLs, reduce the costs of compliance with CWA regulations, establish incentives for voluntary reductions and promote watershed-based initiatives. A number of states are in various stages of developing trading programs. This policy provides guidance for states, interstate agencies and tribes to assist them in developing and implementing such programs.