01/03/05 — Wrong reward: Pollution-for-sale policy unacceptable

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Wrong reward: Pollution-for-sale policy unacceptable

State Attorney General Roy Cooper and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight are concerned over a plan to allow the town of Butner to increase by 2 million gallons a day the release of effluent from its sewage treatment plant into Falls Lake (and ultimately in the Neuse River.)

The state has imposed caps on the amount of nitrogen-rich treated wastewater allowed to be emptied into its rivers.

But there is a curious aspect of the program. If a sewage treatment plant maintains its discharges below the cap, it can get “credits.” And those credits can be sold to plants where potential effluent release needs exceed the prescribed limitations.

In Pamlico County, a utility operates well below its cap. It agreed to sell its credits to Butner for $1.68 million. Pamlico County is at the lower end of the Neuse — around 200 miles downstream from Butner.

This means that any of the towns between Pamlico County and Falls Lake that get their drinking water from the Neuse — and Goldsboro does — would be subject to any effects of an additional 2 million gallons of treated wastewater per day above levels imposed on the plant at Butner. In the Raleigh area alone, some 340,000 people get their water from Falls Lake.

Basnight, whose efforts led to creation of the state’s Clean Water Trust Fund and who has been the champion of protecting North Carolina’s waters, was the first to raise concerns about trading pollution credits.

Cooper shared his concerns. The attorney general has told the health and human services secretary, Carmen Hooker Odom, that before engaging in trading credits, “We must take time to examine the impact ... on our natural resources.”

On the surface, anyway, the credit system raises questions. Systems from which treated wastewater is well below the maximum allowed should be appreciated and perhaps rewarded in some fashion. But there must be a better way than allowing them to sell their “credits” to those wanting to create more-than-acceptable pollution upstream.

Cooper and Basnight are acting in the best interests of our natural resources and all of us who rely on the Neuse River in challenging what amounts to a “pollution-for-sale” policy.

Published in Editorials on January 3, 2005 11:43 AM