Flexible Fertilizer Regs Could Reduce Pollution

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PRINCETON, N.J. — As the global population continues to increase, so will food production. This means increased use of fertilizers, and many on today’s market are not environmentally friendly.

To reduce pollution and save billions of dollars in damages, the United States and other national governments should require manufacturers to sell nitrogen fertilizer with compounds designed to increase their efficiency and reduce pollution, according to a new paper published in Nature Sustainability.

Such a policy could substantially reduce air and water pollution from nitrogen use, including greenhouse gases.

The researchers estimate that using this approach among U.S. corn farms could reduce nitrogen pollution by 16 percent, earn farmers millions of dollars through higher crop yields, and reduce total costs of nitrogen pollution up to $5 to $7 billion.

“Global and U.S. nitrogen pollution have been growing relentlessly, causing ocean dead zones, unhealthy air, and large greenhouse gases,” said paper co-author Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “Fertilizers contribute greatly to this and will do so more as food production expands. Governments should consider flexible policies that shift more of the responsibility to manufacturers to produce fertilizers with more efficient compounds and continue to innovate for even better compounds.”

In addition to Searchinger, who also is a lecturer in the Princeton Environmental Institute, the paper was co-authored by David Kanter of New York University.

They recommend a policy similar to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which require automobile manufacturers to improve the average fuel of vehicles. This approach gave manufacturers incentives to develop more efficient engines and other vehicle technologies and to find ways to make smaller cars more attractive.

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