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Science-Policy Conference: Nutrient Management (Chicago, IL)

CGLI attended the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s 2015 Science-Policy Confluence Conference on March 26-27, 2015. This year’s topic was nutrient management. Sixty-seven people attended. Those attending included 18 representatives of environmental NGO organizations, 21 from academic institutions, 12 from government agencies, 2 from consulting companies, 5 practicing attorneys, 3 journalists, 2 from industry, and 4 members of the ELPC staff.

The conference focused on algal bloom experiences in the Great Lakes, primarily within the western basin of Lake Erie. Scientists presented data and analytical results that characterized the known or postulated causes of algal blooms, and other presenters offered information about best practices on agricultural lands and proposed policy measures. Presentations by EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman and EPA Region 5 Water Division Director Tinka Hyde made it clear that the agency is directing states to tighten nutrient release limitations on point sources while they work with non-point sources to reduce phosphorus loadings to all surface waters in the region. TMDLs and nutrient water quality criteria were identified as primary tools to be used by the agency.

Various conference participants advocated for certain important policy needs to address excess nutrients in the Great Lakes. Among other things, recommended policies included:

  • Regulatory frameworks that force a more coordinated approach to controlling both point and non-point sources. Such a system should lead to broader acceptance of “trading” or “adaptive management” regulatory programs, which provide for permits and other legal agreements to require conservation and other land practices that substitute for point source discharge controls and/or treat non-point sources as point sources for management and enforcement purposes.
  • Higher level policy measures that would radically change agricultural (and North American dietary) cultures. Such measures, for example, might result in less “high phosphorus demand corn” being grown in the region. Other measures might include shifting from a meat eating culture to a Mediterranean style diet, which requires the growth of alternative crops not so dependent on phosphorus.

The expected outcome from the conference and how it will influence policy direction within the Great Lakes region is unclear. Additional detail is available will be posted soon on CGLI’s website and in the meantime is available on request.