Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Water Cap & Trade Can Lead To Environmental Injustice

Fred Tutman
"Pollution Trading and Zip Code Environmentalism"
By Fred Tutman
In a society where the environment that surrounds you is treated like a commodity, we can usually count on most people buying the very best environment for themselves and their families that our incomes and means will afford. That is why in America, your zip code says a lot about your income, your prospects, your life expectancy and your environmental health. So while black and brown people in America see our wealth fast disappearing in a bonfire of foreclosures, poverty zones and long unrequited promises of social equity—it ought to come as no surprise that the non-diverse environmental community is busily creating the latest in a long series of programmatic efforts to ensure that the places where they like to live, recreate, and invest will always get restored, mitigated and protected.
Pollution trading is the latest scheme to ensure that existing Federal laws to protect clean and water bypass black and brown communities, even while these so called market tools for the environment would only serve to widen the chasm between the haves and have nots in America.
Groups that include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the World Resources Institute and others are busily working to authenticate cap and trade initiatives for the Chesapeake Bay region that would allow the worst polluters (statistically located in poor or communities of color) to increase their regulated emissions and discharges to the environment while paying those who presently live elsewhere in relatively nice areas for the privilege to pollute. Also, brokering fees for these transactions will be paid to middle-men known as “aggregators”. Skeptical, check out the Bay Bank: a self proclaimed marketplace where your environment is for sale. Fish habitat? No problem. Wetlands, sure we”ll put it in a box for you.
Some Bay conservationists are just as eager to sell the ecology in a fire sale as they are in conserving it.
For example predominantly black Prince George’s County might be slated to have the massive coal burning power plant known as the Chalk Point Generating station to increase its discharges of waste into the waters near the black residential town of Eagle Harbor (in Southern Prince George’s). The plant proposes to get state permit to do this in exchange for buying pollution credits form a farmer who happens to live in a predominantly white populated County located several miles downriver. It’s a great deal for the wealthy plant operators, a good deal for the farmers too, who get more cash and no more pollution than before. The black residents of the town? They get added pollution. Trading boosters have no problem with this lopsided transaction. It’s good for the net impacts on the Chesapeake Bay they say.
The proponents also argue that this approach to regulating pollution will produce incentives for polluters to clean up their act by giving them additional time and flexibility to comply with the laws while creating fresh sources of investment capital to be used to incentivize compliance with the environmental laws. What they do not say—indeed what they have not even considered is that environmental organization can also get money from these transactions by serving as aggregators or as contractors to conduct restoration projects funded by the trading money. In fact Wall Street brokerage firms are excited about the prospects of selling derivatives and other investment instruments based on pollution trades! Eureka! Pay to pollute. Now there’s a great proposition. Let’s face it. When you monetize the environment then only those with lots of money will have a good environment.
But treating your neighborhood like a “marketplace” virtually assures that only good marketplaces will have their environmental health problems addressed. Those with something worth trading will get fresh investment in their communities in derived from “credits”. But those with existing pollution will of course get only “trades” and deferred promises.
How could an implausible Ponzi scheme like this one even get on the table? Because the sad truth is the environmental community which panders to the rich and privileged doesn’t think the environment of the region’s black and brown citizens is worth saving. They will quickly inform you that scarce investment dollars go much further in those areas where they like hang out. The "environment" invariably happens to be exactly where they are-- not where we are. 
Pollution trading is an amazing give-away to the worst polluters in our midst. It perpetuates the idea that you can eliminate pollution while maintaining the same old polluting economy and business practices. It furthers the myth that you can trade something that doesn’t even belong to you. It breaks the faith with those of us awaiting environmental fairness and justice, by instead trading, mitigating and offsetting what remains of our environmental quality into folding money that goes elsewhere and helps build and restore other communities.
It is a horrendous miscall and a bad left turn by a conservation community that ought to be embarrassed after 40 some years of vigorous effort to Save the Bay , and even more vigorous funding toward that end, yet it has produced a Chesapeake Bay estuary no better off than when the Bay program was started. So instead of cleaning it up, we will now convert it to cash instead? Right. Public investment continues to go to the more pristine areas of the Bay, to private beaches, country clubs and marinas. Nowhere near the documented hubs of the State’s worst toxic releases, no place near the blight and redevelopment needs of those urban landscapes that also drain to the “bay”; and decidedly nowhere close to where black and brown people disproportionately live work and play.
Pollution trading is the latest in a series of deferrals of the Federal Clean Ware Act. If market solutions rely on voluntary incentives then assuredly there is no great incentive than corporate profits. Allowing polluters to the option of reducing their pollution or trading instead, is a no brainer for them. It dooms those of us who are underrepresented in the halls of funded environmentalism to the ongoing legacy and stigma of dirty water and funky air. It is color blind environmental racism at its most brutal and unfair expression.
To be clear, I personally oppose pollution trading for legal, equitable and moral reasons, and therefore I will oppose it in any forum where I can do so. The solution to the Bay cleanup is to vigorously enforce the laws—not trade our problems onto less fortunate neighborhoods. But if trading arrives nonetheless, then we the poor, the black, the brown, the economically and environmentally disenfranchised of the areas most underserved neighborhoods, must grab a seat at the table to assure that if trading occurs then it does so fairly and without bias. That if there are “credits” to be had at our expense then we should at minimum get our fair share of them. That if there is a gold mine to be had, that communities of color don’t get only the shaft. And if there is “new money” to being produced for the environment that we must ensure that it does not go the same route as that “old money” that we barely got our fair share of.
Frederick Tutman
Riverkeeper, CEO
Patuxent Riverkeeper

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