EPA Offers “Inaction” Plan to Solve ‘Dead Zone’ Disaster

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, June 16, 2008

WASHINGTON, June 16 – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released today an action plan that will do little to slow the growth of the oxygen-starved ocean ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, says three members of the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative. Recent studies place the size of this year’s Dead Zone at a record setting – 22,000 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) – an area roughly equivalent to the size of Massachusetts.

This Spring and early Summer, flooding in states along the Mississippi River has inundated farm fields and swept away others, likely increasing the amount of fertilizer nutrient pollution that will contaminate state waters and the Gulf of Mexico, expanding the size of the Dead Zone and exacerbating efforts to reduce it. According to the US Geological Society, pollution from agricultural fields in just nine states – specifically fertilizer and manure run-off from corn and soybean crops - is the leading cause of hypoxia in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

“We can mitigate this environmental disaster, but the EPA’s ‘inaction plan’ ensures that we continue to muddle along for yet another five years, which is completely unacceptable,” said Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network, based in New Orleans. “Most of the 11 “action steps” in this report do not have due dates and none of them have either nitrogen and phosphorus loading reduction goals or ‘Dead Zone’ size reduction goals. If there are no real goals or due dates, how will progress towards successful actions be measured?” Rota asked.

“EPA Task Force members acknowledge that the current voluntary, cost-share approach to solving farm pollution is failing, yet the Task Force fails to change it’s approach,” said Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “The Task Force should have adopted minimum environmental performance standards for agriculture in the nine critical Basin states and should have committed to targeting farm conservation funds to the highest priority locations and the practices that achieve the most cost-effective nutrient reductions,” Heathcote said.

“Without a real plan that set goals and mandates action to achieve comprehensive pollution reduction across the Basin, irreversible damage to the ecosystem will be the legacy of the EPA in the Gulf,” said Michelle Perez, senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. “Only with a targeted action plan can the public ensure that their taxpayer subsidies for ethanol production are not causing environmental disasters and their subsidies for farm conservation practices are achieving the greatest nutrient reductions for the buck,” Perez concluded.

The EPA Task Force ignores it’s own Science Advisory Board’s recommendation that they adopt a 40-percent nutrient reduction goal for the Basin. This policy is a critical first step to ensuring the Task Force can achieve the goal of reducing the size of the Dead Zone to 5,000 square kilometers. Instead, the Task Force suggests that the states finalize separate and uncoordinated nutrient reduction strategies by the time the next Task Force convenes – in 2013.


# # #

The Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative is comprised of environmental organizations from states bordering the Mississippi River as well as regional and national groups that work on Mississippi River issues. The purpose of the Collaborative is to harness the resources and expertise of diverse organizations to reduce all types of pollution entering the river.

EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s analysis on the impact of biofuels and modern agriculture on the environment can be found at: https://www.ewg.org/featured/722

Key Issues: