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Minnesota, other states, move to protect Mississippi

July 31, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Conservation groups from Minnesota and the eight other Mississippi River states are officially asking the federal government to limit the pollution that's being allowed to flow downstream into the Gulf of Mexico. They've petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to Kris Sigford, Water Quality Program director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

"The petition asks the EPA to establish numeric standards that would limit nitrogen and phosphorous pollution that is harming the Gulf of Mexico, and polluting our upstream waters here in the state of Minnesota."

She says the petition also asks that the EPA, after acting on the Mississippi cleanup, develop separate cleanup plans for Minnesota and the other upstream states. The petition was filed, Sigford explains, because the federal government has delayed taking action for ten years. In the meantime, she adds, the pollution has caused a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mississippi - an area that's the size of New Jersey.

"The dead zone represents an area in the ocean, off coastal Louisiana, where there's so little oxygen in the water that marine life can't live. You know, if you can swim away, you're okay. If you can't, you die. It has a huge impact on the Gulf Coast's $2.8 billion fishing industry."

If the federal government began to enforce standards to limit nitrogen and phosphorus in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River basin, Sigford is convinced it would have an impact upstream.

"In Minnesota, much of the state's rivers drain into the Mississippi River. What we would need to do then, is look at the sources of extra nitrogen and phosphorous that are flowing in from Minnesota tributaries, and try to address those."

The petition alleges that the EPA has disregarded its responsibility under the federal "Clean Water Act" to limit pollution in the Mississippi River and that, without specific pollution standards, Minnesota and other inland states along the river will continue to suffer severe water quality problems.

For more information online, visit www.mncenter.org.

Jim Wishner/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MN