Is it time for the federal government to drop the hammer on the farmers whose fertilizer gushes into the Mississippi River, fueling sweeping dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico? The Environmental Protection Agency now has six months to decide.
The deadline comes via a federal judge in New Orleans in response to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. The enviros argue that states aren't doing enough to tackle the problem, and have petitioned the feds to use the Clean Water Act to take charge. But the EPA has been wishy-washy, neither agreeing nor disagreeing that regulating the nutrient runoff should be its responsibility.
[The environmentalists'] petition asked EPA to establish numerical water quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. They also asked EPA to establish “total daily maximum loads,” specific numerical amounts of the two pollutants that would be allowed in individual segments of the river and its tributaries.