The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered by the U.S. District Court in Eastern Louisiana to spend the next six months determining if it should set new limits on fertilizer pollution that is contributing to algae blooms throughout the Mississippi River basin, the Gulf of Mexico and other waters across the country.

The court’s decision does not tell EPA how to address the problem, only that it has to make a decision. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s denial of the Mississippi’s River Collaborative’s 2008 petition to EPA asking it to establish quantifiable standards and clean-up plans for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, according to It has been reported that the suit claimed that EPA had unlawfully refused to respond to the question of whether federal action is necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, that the EPA’s refusal to provide a direct answer was unlawful.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several conservation groups determined to break longstanding inaction by the federal government regarding fertilizer pollution in the nation’s waterways.

Plaintiffs in the suit included Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Prairie Rivers Network, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club and NRDC. Attorneys at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, NRDC and the Environmental Law and Policy Center brought the case.

“It should be apparent that pollution limits are essential to controlling pollution,” said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “With this decision, we are hopeful that EPA will finally do what it has long known is necessary to address the Gulf Dead Zone and the staggering number of other fisheries, water supplies and recreational waters decimated by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution across the nation.”

Bradley Klein, attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center added, “This isn’t just about the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Algae blooms threaten the Great Lakes—and smaller waterways across the nation are being impacted by this huge problem. Hopefully, EPA will move in the right direction on this because until we deal with the sources, which are sometimes thousands of miles away, we cannot get to the problem.”