Enviros sue EPA over alleged ‘failure' to address Gulf ‘dead zone'

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2012 -Environmental groups last week filed separate federal lawsuits, charging that the EPA has refused to address the causes of the summertime “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, a situation, the groups say, is ‘a critical pollution problem [EPA] has acknowledged for decades.

The two legal actions filed seek action from the agency on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which stimulates excessive growth of algae, prompting a biological process - hypoxia ‑ that severely depletes oxygen levels in aquatic ecosystems and chokes marine life.

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A suit filed in federal court in Louisiana alleges toxic algae blooms result in fish kills, the death of livestock and pets, and damage to drinking water supplies. “Addressing ‘dead zone' pollution is thus necessary to restore health to the Gulf of Mexico and upstream waters of the Mississippi River Basin,” the Gulf Restoration Network said in a release announcing the lawsuits.

“The ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico have paid the price for EPA's endless dithering about dead-zone pollution,” said Matt Rota, Director of Science and Water Policy with the non-profit Gulf Restoration Network. “The most meaningful action the EPA can take is to set limits on the amount of these pollutants allowed in the Mississippi River watershed so that the fish and the fisheries can recover.”

Members of the Mississippi River Collaborative, represented by the Natural Resources Defense Council, are challenging EPA's denial of a 2008 petition to the agency asking EPA to establish quantifiable standards and cleanup plans for dead zone pollution.

Separately, the conservation groups filed suit in federal court in New York state seeking to compel EPA to respond to a 2007 petition calling on EPA to modernize decades-old pollution standards for sewage treatment plants and to include the dead zone pollutants nitrogen and phosphorus in those standards.

 “Decisive EPA action on dead zone pollutants is a decade overdue,” said Glynnis Collins, Executive Director of Illinois-based Prairie Rivers Network. “Illinois is the biggest contributor of pollution that creates this yearly crisis. With little action coming from the state, we clearly need an external push to be a more responsible neighbor.”

EPA officials said they have been addressing the issue, particularly since 1997, when it established a Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force consisting of five federal agencies and 10 state agencies. But environmentalists say the agency has been doing little more than measuring the fallout from nutrient runoff and made little effort to restrict it.

Farm groups say voluntary programs aimed at reducing runoff, as well as wetland establishment and rehabilitation, are stemming runoff in increasing increments from year to year.


Original story printed in March 21, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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