The activists lashing out against corn-based biofuels can update their talking points with this worrying new fact: the size of the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone" is almost the largest on record. The fast-expanding Dead Zone--an area off the Louisiana coastline with too little oxygen to support marine life--would have broken the 2002 record had it not been for Hurricane Dolly churning the Gulf last week. The oxygen-depleted waters are the result of the fertilizer run-off from the Mississippi River watershed, which has dumped habitat-disrupting nitrogen into the Gulf.
But who is the real culprit for this year's Dead Zone uptick? Eugene Turner, a Louisiana State University researcher, boils it down for us:
He said a major factor is intensified corn production, which relies heavily on fertilizer. "The longer you wait to reduce the nitrogen, the harder it is to reverse its course."
With commodities prices still at record levels, it's a tough time
to demand any reforms that could cut back on food (or fuel)
production. And let's not forget that both parties have continue to swear their allegiance to agribusiness. But lone voices along the Misssissippi are still hoping for a push back: on Monday, environmental groups from nine states sent a petition to the EPA to set limits for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.