EPA Doesn't Have To Set Water Limits For 2 Fertilizers

December 21, 2016 10:21 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal judge has given the Environmental Protection Agency more time to work with states on limiting their runoff of chemicals blamed for oxygen-depleted "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

Scientists say nitrogen and phosphorus carried down the Mississippi River stimulate plankton blooms that decompose on the sea floor each summer, using up so much oxygen that life cannot be supported in vast stretches of the Gulf of Mexico.

Farm runoff is the biggest source of these chemicals in the Mississippi watershed, according to the EPA. Other sources include storm runoff from cities and towns, poorly treated sewage, fossil fuels, home fertilizers, pet waste and even some soaps and detergents.

A federal judge ordered the EPA three years ago to set firm limits for the chemicals in water, but an appeals court overruled him, and the agency says it wants to keep working with states on alternative solutions. The 11 environmental groups suing the agency contend that numerous pollution-reduction plans went nowhere because the EPA never acted directly, and states have failed to solve the problem.

Farmers have done a great deal to reduce runoff pollution, said Don Parrish, director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of nearly 60 groups, including 15 state farm bureaus and nearly 20 corn and pork production groups, that joined the suit as intervenor defendants.

Parrish said such work includes technology to apply different amounts of fertilizer in different parts of a field, and splitting fertilizer over two or more applications instead of all at once.

"We had a goal for a 20 percent reduction in nutrient loss. We have achieved that goal," he said, noting that year-to-year figures can vary widely.

Parrish said his figure came from the U.S. Geological Survey, which operates more than 3,000 stream gauges and 50 real-time nitrate sensors, and collects water quality data at long-term stations throughout the Mississippi River basin to track how nutrient loads change over time.

That agency said last year that May 2015 levels of nitrogen were 21 percent below the 1980-2014 average, while phosphorus levels were 16 percent above the long-term average. That still added up to 104,000 metric tons of nitrate and 19,300 metric tons of phosphorus just in May. The dead zone that year was the 11th largest measured, and nearly 18 percent larger than predicted in June, largely because heavy June rains throughout the watershed had swept nutrient-rich runoff into the Gulf, scientists said.

This year, the river carried 146,000 metric tons of nitrate - about 12 percent above the long-term average - and 20,800 metric tons of phosphorus, about 25 percent above the long-term average, they found. From this, scientists predicted an average dead zone, covering nearly 5,900 square miles , or about the size of Connecticut. This year's mapping cruise was canceled by engine troubles on a federal research ship. It was the first cancellation in 27 years for the surveys, which started in 1985.

"The fact of the matter is that nothing has gotten better" in the nine years since the lawsuit was filed, said Ann Alexander, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs. "If anything, it's gotten worse."

The plaintiffs have not decided whether to appeal, she said Tuesday.

Quoting other rulings, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal said U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey had to be "highly deferential" to the agency and could consider only whether the agency provided "some reasonable explanation" for its decision not to set standards.

Given those limits, Zainey wrote, the agency was within its rights. He noted that the agency acknowledged that limits may be needed if the cooperative approach fails to improve water quality, or the pollution gets worse.

"Presumably, there is a point in time at which the agency will have abused its great discretion by refusing to concede that the current approach ... is simply not going to work," the judge wrote. But for now, he wrote, the agency is acting legally.

Alexander said that may be the most important paragraph in the opinion.
"What he made really clear is there's only so long the USEPA can continue delaying action before the jig is up," she said.

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Spell Check

Peter Maier
Stansbury, UT
12/22/2016 10:20 AM

  Money and time again wasted. While trying to use the CWA, plaintiffs tried to regulate the runoffs from farms and cities, but failed to even mention (while everybody is aware) that EPA never implemented the CWA. The goal of the CWA was to eliminate all water pollution by 1985, but when EPA established sewage treatment criteria for their NPDES permits, it used ye 5-day reading of the BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) test, instead of its full 30-day reading. By doing so EPA not only ignored 60% of this oxygen exerting pollution, but also all the nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste also is a fertilizer for algae or as it is now called a nutrient. The second largest federally funded public works program failed due to a faulty applied test and that apparently is so embarrassing to admit for everybody, that even environmental groups are willing to waste their members contribution on lawsuits that all will end similar as this one, i.e. failing to force EPA to implement the CWA as intended. The groups would spent their members contribution better by educating their members and the media, so they can educate their members of Congress and let them hold EPA accountable for not only failing to implement the CWA, but having wasted billions of taxpayers money. Because of incorrect testing, we still do not know how sewage is treated and the possibility real, that multi-million dollar sewage treatment plants are designed to treat the wrong waste.


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