Quantcast

Will Court Decision on Gulf Dead Zone Reduce Dangerous Algae Growth in American Waters?

Natural Resources Defense Council

The U.S. District Court in Eastern Louisiana ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday to determine within six months whether to set new limits on the pollution that is fueling the dangerous algae growth choking the waters throughout the Mississippi River basin, the Gulf of Mexico and waters across the country.

iew of a blue green algae bloom at Big Creek State Park during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2012. Photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

“For too long, the EPA has stood on the sidelines while our nation’s waters slowly choke on algae,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Senior Attorney Ann Alexander. “They have acknowledged the problem for years, but could not muster the gumption to address it. The court is telling the Agency that it is time to stop hiding from the issue and make a decision already.”

Attorneys at the NRDC led the suit, filed on behalf of several conservation groups and based on longstanding efforts by the Mississippi River Collaborative to break decades of inaction from the federal government on the issue of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. These chemicals fuel the formation of the Gulf Dead Zone and toxic algae blooms and cause damage to drinking water supplies.

"The Army Corps of Engineers monitored Kentucky's recreational lakes for Harmful Algae Blooms for the first time this past summer and recorded excessive numbers throughout much of the summer at several lakes," said Judy Petersen, executive director at Kentucky Waterways Alliance. "Nutrient pollution is clearly just as much of a problem in Kentucky as it is in other Mississippi River Basin states and down in the Gulf, and the EPA must address it."

Nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage plants, urban stormwater systems and agricultural operations fuels the growth of algae in waterways around the country. Algae, in turn, chokes out other aquatic life and can rob water of the oxygen that fish and shellfish need to survive. One of the most devastating consequences of this pollution has been the emergence of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—an area the size of Connecticut where algal growth has driven levels of oxygen at the sea floor so low that virtually nothing can live there. Similar issues are driving the dramatic collapse of Lake Erie and threatening other portions of the Great Lakes.

View of a blue green algae bloom at Big Creek State Park during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2012. Photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

“It should be apparent that pollution limits are essential to controlling pollution” said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, “With this decision, we are hopeful that the EPA will finally do what it has long known is necessary to address the Gulf Dead Zone and the staggering number of other fisheries, water supplies and recreational waters decimated by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution across the nation.”

The suit, filed a year and a half ago, challenged the EPA’s denial of the Mississippi River Collaborative’s 2008 petition to the EPA asking it to establish quantifiable standards and cleanup plans for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The suit charged that the EPA had unlawfully refused to respond to the question posed to it, which is whether such federal action is necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act. The court agreed with plaintiffs, holding that the EPA’s refusal to provide a direct answer was unlawful.

“This isn't just about the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico," said Bradley Klein, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "Algae blooms threaten the Great Lakes—and smaller waterways across the nation are being impacted by this huge problem. Hopefully the EPA will move in the right direction on this because until we deal with the sources, which are sometimes thousands of miles away, we cannot get to the problem."

The decision does not tell the EPA how to address the problem, only to make a decision on the issue. However, the EPA has repeatedly acknowledged the severity of the problem and stated that federal intervention is appropriate because states are not doing enough to solve it.

Signs advising against swimming are posted at the Rock Creek State Park beach because of a harmful algal bloom Aug. 10. Photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

"We are gratified that the EPA cannot duck this important decision, and hope that the EPA takes quick and decisive action to control widespread nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River," said Kris Sigford, water quality director at Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy."In Minnesota, over one-quarter of our streams and rivers are polluted by nitrogen in excess of safe drinking water standards, and the trend is increasing rapidly."

Plaintiffs in the suit included Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Prairie Rivers Network, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club and NRDC. Attorneys at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, NRDC and the Environmental Law and Policy Center brought the case.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!