Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” traced back to farm subsidies

You know that massive “dead zone” that shows up every year in the Gulf of Mexico? The oxygen-starved, life-free patch of water about the size of, oh, Connecticut? That’s your tax dollars at work. The zone is caused largely by nitrogen-based fertilizers, which flow downriver from farms in a small set of counties in the Midwest — farms the Department of Agriculture subsidized to the tune of some $30 billion between 1997 and 2002. In contrast, in that period conservation programs in those same counties received … $75 million. Love those priorities. This info comes from a new study by the Environmental Working Group. “In the crudest sense, we’re paying people to pollute,” says an EWG ecologist. A multistate compact to shrink the dead zone to one-third its current size by 2015 has been ineffective so far, possibly because despite incentives, the program is voluntary. The hypoxic area is a major threat to Louisiana’s fishing industry, one of the world’s most productive.