EPA Nitrogen Plan Good Idea for Long Island Sound

By ecoRI News staff

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Save the Sound and seven other environmental organizations support the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released strategy to slash nitrogen contamination in Long Island Sound. Nitrogen pollution has been devastating sound ecosystems for decades.

According the environmental advocacy organizations, significantly cutting nitrogen inputs will help breathe life back into the sound’s low-oxygen dead zones; reduce and eventually eliminate toxic and nuisance algae blooms; and give salt marshes a chance to survive and protect neighborhoods by absorbing flood waters and storm surges.

“Last summer we witnessed massive fish kills, turtle die-offs, toxic tides and closed beaches,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We cannot let this become the ‘new norm.’”

Early last year, Save the Sound submitted a formal petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting an updated nitrogen reduction plan for Long Island Sound. The petition was co-signed by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Environment Connecticut, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, Friends of the Bay, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and Long Island Soundkeeper.

In response to EPA’s renewed commitment, the petitioners are suspending further legal action, the eight organizations informed the federal agency in a Feb. 19 letter. The petitioners will focus on supporting swift implementation by the states that drain to Long Island Sound and will re-instate the petition only if the strategy isn’t implemented or enforced.

“Nitrogen pollution has been sucking oxygen out of the sound, destroying marshes, and fueling toxic algae blooms for too long. The EPA’s new strategy to slash it is comprehensive and strong,” said Curt Johnson, executive director of Save the Sound, a bi-state program of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “We will hold off on further legal action to give EPA, New York, Connecticut, and towns and cities all around the sound the chance to transform a great game plan into concrete action that will restore Long Island Sound’s web of life.”

EPA’s strategy has three thematic and geographic focuses:

Rescue the most ecologically crippled bays and harbors around Long Island Sound by developing local nitrogen reduction plans that will reduce toxic and nuisance algae, and restore oxygen, eelgrass and marshes.

Restore oxygen and life in western Long Island Sound, with a focus on reducing enormous excess nitrogen pollution flowing out of the East River in New York.

Reduce nitrogen flowing out of the three biggest Connecticut rivers that contribute nitrogen pollution to the sound — the Connecticut, Housatonic and Thames.

"If implemented and enforced, the strategy will go a long way towards restoring Long Island Sound,” Save the Sound legal director Roger Reynolds said. “We will work with EPA and the states to meet the deadlines set out in the plan and remain ready to re-instate our petition if and when necessary to achieve the strategy’s goals.”