GULF RESTORATION UPDATE-Going Nowhere

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President Clinton established the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force in 1998 to focus on the sources and reduce the growing size of the oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It was led by NOAA’s Coastal Estuary group and involved more than 100 scientists from Mississippi Watershed Universities, major government agencies including the Corp of Engineers, USDA, USGS, and EPA. Independent agencies including Woods Hole Oceanographic and The Smithsonian Institution were involved. Chesapeake Bay Institutions including the Marine Science Lab at Wm. and Mary College, and The UM Horn Point Laboratory were involved. The Task Force studied the Mississippi Watershed which includes 41% of the land area if the US. The major recommendations included two specific actions (1) reduce fertilizer application rates by 20% and (2) restore nitrogen reducing fresh water wetlands. Both of these recommendations would have effectively reduced corn yields. The Agribusiness Lobby led by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The Fertilizer Institute, The National Corn Growers Association, many Corn State Governors including then Governor Vilsach of Iowa responded by letter in the public review (see ref. #31 under NOAA). Agribusiness captive research departments produced counter reports. The result was that the Task Force dropped their specific call for fertilizer reduction and wetland restoration and reached a much-celebrated best efforts goal to reduce the dead zone by 30% by 2015.

The task force reconvened in 2008 to evaluate progress. The 60 page plus report is full of congratulatory platitudes directed to agriculture and some to other specific industries. But on page 21 they admit that they are unlikely to meet their goal since the dead zone had reached near historic size in 2007. The 2008 report is summarized in the Rabalais interview, our reference #31. Nowhere is there reference to the untreated manure from 4600 hogs and 1700 cattle added every day in the decade between 1997 and 2007. Corn to ethanol production was not mentioned in the report but was mentioned by Ms. Rabalais. Now USDA Secretary Vilsach spoke and promised action. He subsequently mandated increased corn/ ethanol usage in 2011.

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