Vitter criticizes EPA’s dead zone approach

By Xerxes Wilson, Houma Today
2 November 2013

U.S. Sen. David Vitter is criticizing the federal government for taking a “heavy-handed” approach to remedy the Gulf dead zone.

In a letter to Nancy Stoner, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator, Vitter criticizes the agency’s decision to list three segments of coastal waters west of the mouth of the Mississippi River as impaired, requiring limits on the amount of pollutant sources Louisiana can discharge into the water.

The letter accuses the EPA of using insufficient data to label the waters as impaired and labels it an “unwise approach” to solving the issue of the dead zone, an area of low- to no-oxygen that forms in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.

“EPA’s recent decision to force Louisiana to develop a heavy-handed regulatory control measure, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, inhibits collaborative efforts by Louisiana and other states to achieve meaningful progress on the ‘dead zone,’ ” Vitter said in a news release.

The dead zone is blamed on fertilizer and other farming-related chemicals that find their way into the Mississippi River.

The runoff drains into the Gulf where it creates a low- to-no-oxygen area that is incapable of sustaining plant and marine life when it combines with warm water and summer temperatures. Creatures are forced to flee the dead zone or die.

“The Environmental Protection Agency believes the best way to address this problem is to place a numerical limit … on the amount of pollutant sources Louisiana can discharge. The state disagrees that this approach will solve the problem, and more data is needed to know what the appropriate path forward is,” reads a statement provided by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The statement claims the EPA should look at what other states are doing to solve dead zone conditions off their coasts and claims Louisiana is only responsible for 2 percent of the oxygen depleting nutrient pollutants entering the Gulf.

“A (limit) developed solely for three coastal Louisiana subsegments will have little or no effect on Gulf hypoxia,” the statement read. “By contrast, EPA simply believes the data collected was sufficient, and a (limit) is the only option to remedy the problem. LDEQ firmly believes Gulf hypoxia must be addressed; however, EPA’s approach of a (limit) developed by LDEQ is not the solution.”

In September, environmental advocates in states along the Mississippi River won a round toward a long-term goal of having federal standards created to regulate farmland runoff and other pollution blamed for the dead zone. U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey in New Orleans did not order the EPA to create standards. But he gave the agency six months to decide whether to set standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in all U.S. waterways or explain why they’re not needed.

EPA has said it could more effectively fight water pollution by working with states.

Zainey also ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in a lawsuit about greenhouse gases and car emissions also requires the EPA to investigate whether water pollution standards are needed.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.