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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began operation on December 2, 1970 and was mandated to protect human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations consistent with the laws passed by the United States congress. In 1972 the Clean Water Act established the EPA’s role in maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. However, according to an evaluation as of August of 2009 by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, EPA has not used its Clean Water Act authority to effectively promulgate safe water quality standards. As a result, excess levels of nutrients have created hypoxia, or dead zones in some of the nation’s largest water bodies. In 2008, the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico became the second largest dead zone in the world.
Sources of these excessive nutrients include excessive use of petrochemical fertilizers in agriculture, discharge from sewage treatment plants, septic runoff, animal manure, urban runoff and atmospheric deposition. Nutrient pollution now impacts every state. Despite the fact that EPA has promoted a nutrient criteria strategy to the states, they failed to coordinate and deliver a system that would provide accountability and measurable results. Ultimately, the States were left to set their own milestones and priorities. This strategy proved ineffective, since the states found the EPA’s nutrient criteria and subsequent regulation to be cost prohibitive to implement, overly protective and politically unpopular.
The main nutrients added to fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K), along with a host of other nutrients added in smaller amounts. Fertilizers can be either organic or inorganic in nature. Organic fertilizers contain naturally occurring materials such as manure, compost, seaweed, guano, peat moss and naturally occurring mineral deposits, while inorganic fertilizers rely on nonrenewable resources such as mined phosphorus and limestone and fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal. Excessive use of both organic and inorganic fertilizers emits significant quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. Use of inorganic fertilizers lead to soil acidification, toxic metal emissions such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and nickel as well as create unwanted pest overpopulation.
More generally known as global warming, climate change results from excessive concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. It is the general scientific consensus that human activity is very likely the cause for the rapid increase in global average temperatures and a rise and acidification of global sea levels over the past several decades. Main causes are emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, aerosol emissions, and emissions from cement manufacture, deforestation, animal agriculture and conversion of natural prairie to farmland.