Op-Ed: Protecting water quality without asking taxpayers for billions in new investments

The Chesapeake Bay watershed serves as a critical source of food and drinking water for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the Bay and its tributaries are being choked by excess nutrients that not only diminish drinking water quality, but also threaten the fragile ecosystems within the entire watershed.

Lawmakers have struggled over the past several decades to devise a strategy to reduce pollution from municipal runoff, farms, overzealous gardeners and other human activity. Run-off from these sources accounts for a significant percentage of all pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Farmers have been working incredibly hard to address the situation, but almost half of the nutrients emitted by livestock is airborne ammonia, which buffers and wastewater treatment plants cannot treat. Even after passing numerous laws and investing billions of dollars, we’ve seen little progress in stemming the tide against the pollution of one of our nation’s most important resources.

As Pennsylvania struggles to meet federal nutrient reduction mandates, we must take a closer look at alternative strategies to help address one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Right now, there are hundreds of private sector technologies that could play a role in meeting that challenge.

The commonwealth should partner with the private sector and create a competitive bidding process for verified nitrogen credits. The credits can be applied toward meeting the federal mandate in a more cost-effective manner for taxpayers. Through a competitive bidding process, Pennsylvania can produce credits toward meeting the mandate and cut costs by 80 percent, according to a recommendation by the non-partisan Pennsylvania Legislative Budget & Finance Committee.

As policymakers explore a variety of new ways to reduce long-term costs to taxpayers as part of state budget negotiations, this solution could help clean our waterways and save taxpayers billions. As budget season begins, this idea should absolutely be among our highest priorities.

CONTACT:  Jeremy Shoemaker (717) 787-4651