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Federal judge orders EPA to set up national standards for farm run-off

NEW ORLEANS - A federal judge is putting more pressure on the EPA to set up national standards to regulate farm runoff and other nitrogen and phosphorus in U.S. waters.

Ann Alexander of the Natural Resources Defense Council says one of the first priorities should be to regulate states along the Mississippi River, including Wisconsin. Environmentalists blame runoff pollution for a large oxygen-depleted "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. A similar but smaller dead zone was recently reported in the Bay of Green Bay.

Federal Judge Jay Zainey of New Orleans has given the EPA six months to either decide on setting nitrogen and phosphorus runoff standards, or explain why they're not needed. Environmentalists hailed the ruling as a victory. The U.S. Justice Department had argued that national runoff rules would be too complex and take too much time and personnel to enforce. It also said the EPA could more effectively fight the problem by working with states to reduce pollution. Louisiana officials say states are already doing that. Fourteen months ago, the EPA endorsed Wisconsin's latest plan to fight phosphorus. It seeks to create partnerships with watersheds, in which businesses and sewage plants work together to install control equipment. They could create grants to help farms and city streets reduce run-off, with more flexibility than the state's previous control efforts.