Cap and trade controls smog, says EPA

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week touted the success of a cap and trade program (known as NOx Budget Trading Program, or NBP) that regulates emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in reducing smog and acid rain in portions of the country.

The study, which examined the impact of the NBP program on NOx pollution in 2008 in 20 eastern states, found that emissions from power plants and large industrial sources fell by 62 percent from 2000 levels and about 75 percent since 1990.

The report also revealed that 97 percent of the region under study saw improved air quality with 85 percent below national smog standards.

The EPA study linked these strong improvements in air quality and reduced NOx emissions to the market-based cap and trade system that regulates those emissions. The program funds investments in cleaner technologies that also help reduce emissions.

The program was created in 1998 and put into effect in 2003. The region covered by this particular program includes states from eastern Missouri to Massachusetts and Alabama to southern portions of Michigan.

According to the EPA website, the cap and trade program works by imposing a cap on the total amount of NOx a business or government entity can emit. Those entities can then purchase “allowances” (by the ton) over the cap. If they emit less then they are allowed, they can save or sell their allowances in a marketplace. If they emit more than they are allowed, they must purchase additional allowances.

“Cap and trade programs … have proven highly effective in reducing emissions from multiple sources while meeting environmental goals and improving human health,” the EPA stated.

In a related matter, a nationwide program to control the emission of sulfur dioxides that cause acid rain, implemented in 1994, has reduced that damaging pollution by at least 50 percent, a separate finding by the EPA revealed earlier this year.

(Photo credit: Stefan Wernli, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, cc/2.5)



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.