Washington, DC - The approval of "open market" air pollution trading authority for states, the first initiative from Christine Todd Whitman at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), violates the Clean Air Act to the detriment of public health, according to complaints filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. Last week, EPA formally proposed open market trading for Michigan and New Hampshire. Approval of similar programs is pending for New Jersey and Illinois.
Under open market trading plans, corporations can buy credits instead of cleaning up pollution. These credits can be generated from, and exchanged between, different pollution sources (e.g., smokestacks for auto emissions) and over different periods of time (allowing industries to create credits today for past pollution reductions). Over the past five years under Whitman, New Jersey has developed a de facto trading market. EPA approval will not only sanction New Jersey's market but endorse the spread of similar pollution credit exchanges in other states.
The joint PEER/Sierra Club complaints ask that 1) enforcement action be taken against New Jersey companies who have used credits to circumvent Clean Air Act requirements without legal authorization; and 2) the EPA Office of Inspector General review the effectiveness and legality of burgeoning trading schemes. The Inspector General complaint is drafted by specialists within EPA who object to the absence of any reliable "quantification protocols" or other means of quality/comparability assurance, citing the failure of a more limited program in Los Angeles that has figured into the California energy crisis.
"These trading plans amount to a 'get out of jail free' card for polluting companies," stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER whose organization is representing EPA air quality staff whose pleas to address weaknesses identified in previous Inspector General reports have been ignored. "Administrator Whitman has called for market-based regulation but these plans are all market and no regulation."
"This program is a sweetheart deal for polluters that will not only hurt the environment but also puts public health at risk, " claimed Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.