Attacking the dead zone

By The Times-Picayune editorial page staff
August 28, 2009 2:10AM

The federal government’s hands-off approach to the root causes of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone hasn’t worked.

States don’t even have to say how they plan to address problem pollutants until 2013. There’s no way they’ll achieve the goal of reducing the dead zone by 2015.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general is calling for direct action by the federal government to protect "nationally significant waters," including the Gulf.

The inspector general’s report recommends that the EPA immediately set enforceable limits on nutrient pollutants such as fertilizer and sewage. That "is a minimal first step if the EPA is to meet the requirements" of the Clean Water Act, the report says.

The Gulf dead zone forms during the spring and summer after nutrients from 41 states — including Midwest farms — flow down the Mississippi River. That runoff provides food for the growth of algae, which sucks the life out of a massive area of water off our coast.

The EPA agreed with many of the report’s conclusions but said it believes that a national "strategic approach" would work just as well as focusing on particular bodies of water.

That sort of approach isn’t likely to have the urgency that is needed, though. The inspector general is right: The EPA should take care of the Gulf, and do it now.