REAL ESTATE: For Sale: Air, Slightly Used

For Sale: Air, Slightly Used

Want to buy some air pollution? In smoggy Los Angeles and other U.S. urban areas, pollution brokers match companies in the market for a chunk of pollutable air with businesses that are operating below their pollution quota.

It all happens because a federal regulatory device called an emission- reduction credit allows holders to spew a specified tonnage of toxicants into the air. Result: a $50 million market in ERCs among polluters trying to expand. Such firms buy ERCs, at $3,000 to $10,000 per allowable ton of waste, from companies that have already reduced pollution. The feds say the practice improves the...

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