You know you're an <em>inaction</em> plan. . .

Gulf dead zoneIn honor of EPA's June 2008 "Action Plan," three members of the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative* explain why the EPA report amounts to an “Inaction Plan” and will have little effect on reducing the oxygen-starved Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

You know you're an inaction plan if:

1. You ignore the science. According to the US Geological Society, pollution from agricultural fields in just nine states – specifically fertilizer and manure run-off from corn and soybean crops - is the leading cause of the Dead Zone in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

EPA barely mentions this earth-shaking scientific finding in its report. Instead, EPA could have made this finding the central focus of a real Action Plan by committing to clean-up these highest priority locations first.

2. You recognize the current approach has failed but you fail to change your approach.

“EPA Task Force members do acknowledge that the current voluntary, cost-share approach to solving farm pollution is failing, yet the Task Force fails to change it’s approach. The Task Force should have adopted minimum environmental performance standards for agriculture in the nine critical Basin states and should have committed to targeting farm conservation funds to the highest priority locations and the practices that achieve the most cost-effective nutrient reductions.” -Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

3. You fail to set meaningful goals.

“Most of the 11 “action steps” in this report do not have due dates and none of them have either nitrogen and phosphorus loading reduction goals or ‘Dead Zone’ size reduction goals. If there are no real goals or due dates, how will progress towards successful actions be measured?” -Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network
The EPA Task Force ignores it’s own Science Advisory Board’s recommendation that they adopt a 40-percent nutrient reduction goal for the Basin. This policy is a critical first step to ensuring the Task Force can achieve the goal of reducing the size of the Dead Zone to 5,000 square kilometers. Instead, the Task Force suggests that the states finalize separate and uncoordinated nutrient reduction strategies by the time the next Task Force convenes – in 2013.

4. You fail to act like a leader.

“We can mitigate this environmental disaster, but the EPA’s ‘inaction plan’ ensures that we continue to muddle along for yet another five years, which is completely unacceptable.” -Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network
Without a real plan that set goals and mandates action to achieve comprehensive pollution reduction across the Basin, irreversible damage to the ecosystem will be the legacy of the EPA in the Gulf. Only with a targeted action plan can the public ensure that their taxpayer subsidies for ethanol production are not causing environmental disasters and their subsidies for farm conservation practices are achieving the greatest nutrient reductions for the buck.

*The Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative is comprised of environmental organizations from states bordering the Mississippi River as well as regional and national groups that work on Mississippi River issues. The purpose of the Collaborative is to harness the resources and expertise of diverse organizations to reduce all types of pollution entering the river. EWG Senior Analyst Michelle Perez works with the collaborative and is the author of this post.

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