Lawsuits against EPA target nutrients in US waters

Mar 15, 2012 By CAIN BURDEAU , Associated Press

(AP) -- Environmental groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to force the federal government to curb an overdose of nutrients from farms and cities that end up in the nation's rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The groups say the nutrients cause toxic algae blooms and the massive low-oxygen "dead zone" that crops up every summer in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmentalists said Wednesday they hope lawsuits in federal courts in New Orleans and New York will force the EPA to stem the influx of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous into the waterways. The case is led by the Council, a New York-based environmental law group.

The group charged that the agency has refused to take action over a pollution problem it has "acknowledged for decades."

The suit, filed in New Orleans, asks the federal agency to set nutrient standards for states in the valley while the suit in New York aims to get the agency to update its nutrient standards for publicly owned .

Both suits seek to expand the agency's authority over nutrients under the . Under the law, the agency cannot regulate most agricultural operations, but it does have broad authority over water quality in rivers and .

"The Mississippi and the Gulf have been the nation's sewer for decades and it's well past the time for EPA to take these first steps," said Matthew Rota, the director of Science and at the Gulf Restoration Network, a New Orleans-based group involved in the suits. "We need that first step to make the changes that need to happen."

Since the 1980s, scientists have measured a massive area of low oxygen that forms each summer in the northern Gulf. The dead zone is created when - feeding on fertilizer, runoff and other substances brought by the Mississippi River - multiply, die and then fall to the ocean floor, where their decomposition uses up oxygen. Many cannot exist in the dead zone and must flee or die.

The area of low oxygen measures on average over 5,000 square miles, but it has gotten larger over time and scientists say it is hurting the resilience of the Gulf's ecosystem.

The EPA has set a goal of reducing nutrients in the Mississippi by 40 percent by working with farmers and state governments, but those efforts have failed to seriously put a dent in the nutrient load in the river. In the Mississippi, the majority of the nitrogen and phosphorous comes from corn and soybean farms and pastures while urban runoff accounts for roughly 10 percent of the load, according to data from U.S. Geological Survey.

Last year, the EPA shot down a request for new regulations for nutrients in the , saying it favored keeping the current system because it would be too time consuming and costly to undertake "an unprecedented and complex set of rulemakings." The federal government leaves it up to states to set limits on nutrients, but environmental groups say that approach has not worked.

This week's suit was a response to the federal agency's decision to not establish new regulations. In New York, the groups are asking a judge to weigh in after the EPA failed to respond to a 2007 petition for new sewage treatment plant rules.

Nutrient pollution isn't only a Gulf problem, said Glynnis Collins, the executive director of the Illinois-based Prairie Rivers Network, another group involved in the suits. She said nutrient-rich waters have led to toxic algae blooms in many places.

"They can sicken people, pets and livestock," Collins said. "It's a worldwide story. We have to get a handle on it. It's crazy not to."

Enesta Jones, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency was reviewing the suits.

Robin Craig, an environmental law expert at Florida State University College of Law, said nutrient pollution is "definitely on EPA's radar as the next step forward in implementing water quality protection."

New rules will not be easy, she said. In the Mississippi valley, she said coming up with standards and an action plan for such a huge watershed "is a huge task." As for forcing plants to adopt new standards, she said that might prove politically difficult because of the additional costs municipalities would face.

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

3.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Forecast predicts biggest Gulf dead zone ever

Jun 15, 2011

Scientists predict this year's "dead zone" of low-oxygen water in the northern Gulf of Mexico will be the largest in history - about the size of Lake Erie - because of more runoff from the flooded Mississippi River valley.

Researchers warn Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' could grow

Oct 31, 2007

The New Jersey-size Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" will likely grow in coming years unless federal policies to control it change, in part because the demand for corn-based ethanol fuel will worsen the problem, ...

Scientists find changes to Gulf of Mexico dead zone

Aug 09, 2010

NOAA-supported scientists have found this year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone to be the fifth largest on record at 7,722 square miles - an area the size of New Jersey, near the upper limit of their projections, ...

Water monitor eyes farm runoff in Gulf of Mexico

Apr 10, 2009

(AP) -- A clean water expert at Auburn University hopes a new project that enlists middle and high school students will help reduce farm runoff that is a growing pollution threat to the Gulf of Mexico.

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

( —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 15, 2012
why not just eliminate offending farms and cities? :-)
1 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2012
I think that in the spirit of "removing the victim", we should simply (and immediately) eliminate the EPA.

Problem solved!
4 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2012
ShelgeyrTard remind us that continuing the destruction of America continues to be the Republican Goal.

"we should simply (and immediately) eliminate the EPA." - ShelgeyrTard
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2012
Verily! Follow me to wealth and prosperity!

Eliminate the EPA!

Eliminate the NEA (both of them)!

Eliminate the Department of Education!

Eliminate the Department of Energy! Create mail-in drilling permit approval!

Turn the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into a chain of convenience stores!

Free Great Big Trebuchets and "How to Spot an Idiot Leftist" posters for anyone living along the Canadian border who can demonstrate a willingness to carefully follow loading, aiming, and firing instructions.

We should also conquer Quebec, enforce 26 years of education in conservative economics, real-world money management, unflinching world history focused on the evils of Marxism, and make it English-only (in fact, make it "Cajun" English just to bring things full circle). Then, of course, give an eager, fresh and aggressive Quebec back to a frightened Canada.

What else? Let me think...

Oh yeah, needlessly eliminate the EPA again, just to make the rubble bounce.

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...